US swimming legend Michael Phelps, winner of 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, is convinced that young Romanian David Popovici will be the first swimmer to break 1.42 minutes in the 200, freestyle.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Phelps said during the ‘Sport, Tomorrow’ lecture series in Paris this week.
“Popovici, in my opinion, is going to be the first swimmer to go under 1.42, a record that people thought was untouchable.
“If there is one person in the world capable of doing it, it’s Popovici. It’s just a matter of time, he’s 18 years old.”
Popovici, who turned 18 on September 15, has become the biggest sensation in world swimming this summer after winning the double – 100m and 200m freestyle – at both the Budapest World Championship and the Rome European Championship.
Popovici beat the world record in the 100m freestyle set by Brazilian Cesar Cielo, in 2009, swimming a time of 46.86 seconds.
That performance raised hopes that the young Romanian swimmer could also beat the world record in the 200m freestyle, held by German Paul Biedermann with a time of 1.42.00 since the Rome World Championship.
However, Popovici fell 97 hundredths of a second short of Biedermann’s record after being crowned European 200m freestyle champion with a time of 1:42.97 minutes, a gap that Phelps believes the Romanian will surpass in the coming years.
Phelps predicted an equally promising future for Frenchman Leon Marchand, who at the last World Championship in Budapest came within 44 hundredths of the 400m freestyle world record still held by Phelps himself with a time of 4.03.84 from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“He’s a hungry kid, he’s hungry to be the best, to beat the world record and obviously he’s four tenths off it, so … I hope, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I hold the record for another year,” Phelps said.
Phelps also said he is “glad” not to be swimming with Hungary’s Kristof Milak, who has twice broken the 200m butterfly world record set by Phelps in 2009.
“I’m glad I don’t swim the 200 butterfly any more because Milak would crush me. To see him do 1,50 minutes is awesome,” concluded Phelps.