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Romanian swimmer, 17, breaks 100-meter men’s freestyle record

David Popovici of Romania celebrates after winning the men's 100-meter freestyle final at the European Aquatics Championships. (Giuseppe Lami/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

One of swimming’s oldest records toppled Saturday courtesy of one of its youngest stars, as 17-year-old Romanian swimmer David Popovici bested César Cielo’s 13-year-old 100-meter men’s freestyle mark at the European Aquatics Championship in Rome. Popovici’s time of 46.86 eclipsed the former event record by 0.05 seconds, and he beat Saturday’s second-fastest competitor, Kristóf Milák, by 0.61.

“It felt great, and it’s very special to break this record which was set here in 2009 by César Cielo,” Popovici said (via the Associated Press).

Though announcers declared Popovici the odds-on favorite entering Saturday’s final, his win hardly appeared inevitable at the halfway mark of the race, as he trailed France’s Maxime Grousset with 50 meters remaining. Popovici ultimately pulled ahead with a second-half surge, measured at a 24.12 split.

Cielo, the previous record-holder, complimented Popovici’s performance on Twitter, declaring that Popovici is “just getting started.”

Few swimmers have come close to Popovici’s impressive 2022. In June, he set the world junior record for the 200-meter freestyle, notching a 1:43.21 time at the 2022 world championships in Budapest. And his 100-meter record is a half-second faster than any other swimmer’s time this year.

Popovici will have a chance to improve on his world junior record in the 200-meter freestyle final Monday afternoon after finishing with the event’s fastest time in Sunday’s semifinal.

Through Sunday’s races, Popovici’s victory stands as Romania’s lone medal, while Italy holds a commanding lead over the rest of its European counterparts with 25 total medals. The European Aquatic Championship concludes Wednesday.