2003 World Champion Alena Popchanka Returns from Two-Year Hiatus; Could Boost French Relay Hopes

There’s another comeback in the works, and though this one isn’t as much of a household name as the likes of “Moses,” “Hansen,” “Trickett,” and “Thorpe,” it’s still a huge name from the early 2000’s.

Belarusian-turned-French swimmer Alena Popchanka was spotted this weekend at the Spanish Short Course National Championships in Madrid. You will recall that in addition to a slew of European Championship medals, Popchanka was the 2003 long course World Champion in the women’s 200 free while representing her native Belarus.

In 2005, she married her coach, Frenchman Frederic Vergnoux (a two-time British Coach of the Year) and decided to switch her sporting nationality to French in time to swim at the European Championships (but not in time for the 2005 Worlds, which she had to sit out of). She represented France at the Beijing Olympics.

In 2008, Vergnoux and Popchanka moved back to France, and now they have apparently resurfaced in Spain – with Popchanka representing the same C.N. Sabadell team that includes Mireia Belmonte-Garcia and Aschwin Wildeboer. Her husband Vergnoux is now the head coach of that program, the most powerful in Spain at the moment, which gives Popchanka an elite group to train with.

At Spanish Nationals, the 32-year old didn’t compete in that 200, but instead focused on the 50 and 100 freestyles. In short course meters, her best times were 25.53 in the 50 free (for 2nd place) and 55.41 in the 100. She also swam a 27.44 in the 50 fly.

Other than a very minor meet in Saint-Dizier, France in November, this is the first time we’ve seen her swim since March of 2009. In the month since she’s returned to official competition, we’ve already seen huge improvements in her times.

Though it’s just short course, she ranks 7th in the 2011-2012 season in the 100 free in France this year. With her times dropping fast, she could make a serious run at the French freestyle relays. France has a very young women’s team, and last summer it would have taken only a 55.87 in long course meters to crack the top 4 for the 400 free relay (55.95 if Muffat plans to not swim it). Three of the top 5 French women in 2011 are only 16 years old, and so Popchanka’s experience could be vital to their development.

She hasn’t swum a 200 free since her return, but if she can get anywhere near the 1:57’s or 1:58’s she was going prior to her retirement, that would be epic for the best of the three French relays (they finished 4th at Worlds). A 1:58 would allow them to safely navigate prelims without using their superstar Camille Muffat – she struggled in this event at Worlds.


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11 years ago

Wow! London’12 is the comeback-olympics! And best keep in mind there is also Laure… She’ll be better come time for the big stage! Maybe not au pair with Muffat, Pellegrini just yet….

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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