The change to freestyle paid dividends sooner than the young Popov expected. He won the gold medal in both the 50 and 100m freestyle in the Barcelona Summer Olympics of 1992. The following Olympics in 1996 at Atlanta saw him repeat those victories. This was quite a big deal as he was the first person to do so since Johnny Weissmuller (who played Tarzan in the movies) did so in the 1920s.
The victory celebrations were to be short lived however. After returning to Moscow from Atlanta he was stabbed in the abdomen in a street dispute. He was lucky to live – the knife went right through an artery, skimmed a kidney and even damaged the pleura (the membrane encasing the lungs). He had to spend three months recovering from this but was back to form the following year when in the 1997 European Championships he defended both titles – and kept them. Here are some facts about his style.
The Athens Summer Olympics of 2004 proved to be a turning point. By this time he was thirty two and this is past peak age for a world class swimmer. He was the oldest competitor in the pool for his events and failed to make it in to the finals of either the 50 or 100m freestyle.
Yet all was not lost – like many an athlete Popov had made plans for when his time ran out as a competitor.
He was elected to the International Olympic Committee as a full member in 1999 and he also is the athlete’s representative on the IOC Sport for All Commission. This was by direct election so you can imagine the esteem in which Popov is held by his colleagues.
The same year he was also declared the Russian Athlete of the Year and European Sports Press Union Athlete of the Year.
As a record holder he held a title for 10 years – the long course men’s 50 meter freestyle which he gained in 1998. It was 21.64 seconds and was only beaten by 0.08 by Australia’s Eamon Sullivan.
He made an appearance at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics presenting flowers to volunteers. However, he has no plans to stay away from sports.
He has already been named as one of the Evaluation Commission for the 2016 Summer Olympics which will be held in Rio, Brazil.
So, there is number 94 on our list of the 100 Greatest sports stars of all time. Keep coming back to World in Sport for more!
Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov, Alexander Popov, Александр Владимирович Попов