Swimming World Presents – Takeoff To Tokyo: Dash Tsar Alexander Popov – Sponsored By S.R. Smith

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By Dan D’Addona

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As Swimming World continues its “Takeoff to Tokyo” sequence, the chance to look at the profession of Russia’s Alexander Popov—accomplishments and method—is the possibility to pay tribute to a person who is perhaps the best sprinter the game has ever seen.

He knew how one can play the all-important psychological sport of high-level sports activities with the talent of a chess grasp. Each transfer was calculated. As Alexander Popov scanned the prepared room earlier than a significant race, it was common for the Russian star to talk up the opposition. He would throw out a joke or two, just a few laughs generated alongside the way in which. However within the laughter he elicited, Popov was already gaining a bonus over his foes, as he planted a seed of doubt right here and a distractive thought there.

With that a part of his job achieved, he would then shift personas, the affable jokester changed by a fierce competitor with an icy stare and a take-them-out mentality. The second Popov walked onto the deck, it was all enterprise. He knew his objective, and it was easy: Destroy.

From an athletic standpoint, Popov was the epitome of perfection within the sprint-freestyle occasions. He boasted a flawless stroke, one that’s nonetheless revered. The connection he shared with Coach Gennadi Touretski was as a lot father-son in its dynamic because it was mentor-pupil. Then there was his inside drive, so excessive in its depth that it’s tough to explain.

THE RISE OF POPOV
Within the late Nineteen Eighties and early Nineties, there was no query that Individuals Matt Biondi and Tom Jager ranked as the game’s Kings of Velocity. Whereas Biondi captured the Olympic title on the 1988 Video games in Seoul, Jager was a two-time world champion and the world file holder.

As dominant as Biondi and Jager have been, although, there have been rumblings {that a} younger challenger was on the way in which. After all, Popov was that man, and when he captured the European crown within the 100 freestyle in 1991, his presence turned bolder. A 12 months later, on the Olympic Video games in Barcelona, Popov fulfilled the expectations positioned upon his shoulders.

In his first Olympic look, Popov swept the sprint-freestyle occasions, prevailing in 21.91 within the 50 and 49.02 within the 100. It was the one-lap dash that really solidified his standing because the Dash Tsar, as Popov beat Biondi and Jager in comfy vogue. The truth that there was a altering of the guard was not misplaced on the Individuals.

“Popov clearly had the braveness to face as much as Matt Biondi and Tom Jager and take them down,” Jager mentioned. “The primary individual on the earth to do this. I take my hat off to Popov. He has an important profession forward of him.”

Jager’s foresight was completely on track. After supplanting the American legends on the dash scene, Popov sandwiched dash sweeps on the European Championships round a dash double on the 1994 World Championships in Rome. There was no letup from a man who needed to take his opponents’ will and need along with his mere presence.

As he surged to untouchable standing, Popov additionally claimed the primary world file of his profession when he fired off a 48.21 clocking within the 100 freestyle in 1994, a regular that endured for six years. The work he put in got here beneath the steerage of Touretski, who took Popov with him when he accepted the head-coaching place on the Australian Institute of Sport in 1992.

“After I go to competitions in Europe or America, and even right here in Australia, I’m at all times searching for potential challengers,” Popov mentioned. “If I see any, I’ve to swim sooner and make them really feel sick. If they’ve slightly potential, you need to get on prime of them and kill that enthusiasm immediately so they may lose their curiosity in swimming.”

GREATNESS IN REPEAT
Forward of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Popov was cemented because the heavy favourite to mine gold within the 50 free and 100 free. However repeating on the Olympic stage had confirmed to be one of the crucial tough duties in sports activities, and nothing was a given—even with Popov. Apart from the stress of the scenario, Popov needed to take care of the most recent American dash star, Gary Corridor Jr.

Hailing from a household with a wealthy lineage within the sport, headlined by Gary Corridor Sr.’s three Olympic journeys, Junior was armed with appreciable expertise of his personal. On the 1994 World Champs, Corridor Jr. was second to the Russian in each sprints, > performances that famous he could be an element within the ensuing years.

The primary duel between Popov and Corridor
Jr. on the Atlanta Video games was within the 100 freestyle, and whereas Corridor gave his rival extra of a push than anticipated over the two-lap distance, it was Popov who emerged on prime, 48.74 to 48.81. Three days later, Popov bought the job achieved once more, this time successful the 50 freestyle in 22.13, with Corridor grabbing silver in 22.26.

By retaining his 100 freestyle title, Popov turned the primary man to go back-to-back within the occasion on the Olympics since American legend Johnny Weissmuller doubled in 1924 and 1928. Extra, the rivalry with Corridor Jr. was on, with the lads exchanging barbs at numerous instances. It was Popov who hurled the primary grenade. Not solely did he take umbrage with Corridor’s relaxed and colourful fashion, one which included shadow-boxing routines earlier than races, he took a shot at Corridor’s household.

“He doesn’t work exhausting,” Popov mentioned of his rival. “He’s doing 1500 meters? That’s what I swim in warm-ups. (Corridor) says he shall be on the Sydney Olympics and that he’ll win each dash titles. I don’t understand how he can say that. His father was by no means an Olympic champion, and he by no means shall be both. It’s a household of losers.”

Not shocking, Popov’s phrases bought again to Corridor, who vowed to turn out to be an alchemist and switch his silver medals from Atlanta into gold on the 2000 Video games in Sydney. He additionally felt the necessity to defend his household and father, an inductee into the Worldwide Swimming Corridor of Fame.

“(Popov) is the epitome of unsportsmanlike conduct,” Corridor mentioned. “On the earth of swimming, Alexander brings a brand new definition to the phrase, ‘shallow.’ What actually upsets me is that so as to make himself really feel higher, Alexander should put down the Olympic accomplishments of his opponent’s father. I’m embarrassed for this coward of a person. He must stop now as a result of that street goes to be an extended and exhausting one. Or, he can study the phrases of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ as a result of that’s what Olympic audiences shall be listening to for years to come back.”

BAD TIMING
On the street to Sydney, Popov discovered that Corridor was the least of his issues. In August of 1996, simply weeks after he swept the sprint-freestyle occasions on the Atlanta Olympics, Popov was strolling with pals on a Moscow road when members of his occasion bought into an argument with watermelon distributors. The change of phrases shortly escalated right into a bodily altercation, and one of many distributors stabbed Popov within the abdomen. Popov was rushed to a hospital the place he underwent a three-hour surgical procedure to deal with injury to his lungs and kidney.

Popov spent 45 days within the hospital and resumed coaching three months after the incident, along with his return to main competitors arriving on the 1997 version of the Santa Clara Worldwide Swim Meet 10 months after the stabbing. After successful the 50 freestyle in northern California, the one trace of his near-death expertise was the six-inch scar on his chest.

“You understand, we most likely may have gotten out of the scenario if it had been dealt with in a different way,” Popov mentioned. “However they approached us, and anyone began speaking with them, they usually misunderstood us and began to struggle. The boys didn’t know who I used to be. We have been within the improper place on the improper time.”

Having dodged demise, Popov went on to win gold within the 100 freestyle on the 1998 World Championships, along with incomes silver within the 50 free. In the meantime, only a few months earlier than the Sydney Video games, Popov crushed the world file within the 50 freestyle on the Russian Olympic Trials, going 21.64 to interrupt Jager’s 10-year-old world file by 17-hundredths.

In Sydney, Popov knew he had the chance to make historical past and turn out to be the primary man to win the identical occasion at three straight Olympics. It was a objective Popov needed badly.

“For those who win the Olympics as soon as, you’re good,” Popov mentioned. “Win the Olympics two instances, you’re nice. Win the Olympics thrice, you’re historical past.”

In the end, Popov didn’t have the identical magic he spun in Barcelona and Atlanta. Within the 100 freestyle, Popov captured the silver medal behind the Netherlands’ Pieter van den Hoogenband. Within the 50 free, Popov missed the rostrum and was compelled to observe Corridor Jr. declare the gold medal, which he shared with American teammate Anthony Ervin.

NOT QUITE DONE
If it appeared like Popov was on the draw back of his profession following the Sydney Video games, the legendary sprinter, whose stroke has been described as a chunk of artwork, proved in any other case whereas remaining within the sport. On the 2003 World Championships, Popov emerged as soon as once more as a double-sprint champion.
With two extra world titles collected, Popov figured to be an element on the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

As a substitute, the meet was a catastrophe for the Corridor of Famer, as Popov did not advance out of the preliminaries of the 50 freestyle and was eradicated within the semifinals of the 100. As shortly as Popov moved via the water, his profession was over.

When he’s remembered, Alexander Popov shall be recalled for his good stroke. He shall be lauded for his capacity to ship beneath stress. He shall be appreciated for etching himself as one of many biggest sprinters in historical past, maybe the best.Merely, he had a particular relationship with the pool.

“The water is your buddy. You don’t should struggle with water, simply share the identical spirit because the water, and it’ll enable you to transfer,” he as soon as mentioned. “For those who struggle the water, it can defeat you. We have been born in water. It’s like house to me.”

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