2022 Swammy Awards: Male Swimmer Of The Year, David Popovici

To see all of our 2022 Swammy Awards, click here.


In this post-Olympic year, plenty of new faces rose to the top of men’s swimming. Seven men broke individual world records. Eight men won multiple World Championship titles in individual events. But none of these other swimmers and their performances managed to shake up the swimming world as much as teenage sensation David Popovici did.

For these Swammy Awards, we decide our winners largely based on hard stats, like the number of gold medals won or world records broken. But this year, when Popovici broke the same amount of world records as seven other men and won the same amount of individual long course world titles as swimmers like Kristof Milak and Leon Marchand, we had to take the “wow” factor into consideration. That being said, a 17-year-old boy breaking a super-suited world record in the blue ribbon event of swimming while getting closer than anyone else has ever been in textile to another super-suited record was the “wow” factor that put Popovici on top.

Last year at just 16 years old, Popovici put the world on notice with his swims, clocking a 47.30 world junior record in the 100 free and getting 0.02 seconds away from an Olympic medal in the 200 free. There was all this talk surrounding his promise, his potential, and what he could possibly do in the future. But who would have thought that potential would turn into going 46.86 in the 100 free and 1:42.97 in the 200 free just a year later?

Of course, the peak of Popovici’s year came at the 2022 European Championships. There, he first took down Cesar Cielo‘s super-suited world record time of 46.91 in the 100 free, going 46.86. Then, he swam a 1:42.97 in the 200 free, becoming the third male to break 1:43 behind Paul Biedermann and Michael Phelps and the first to do so in a textile suit. With Popovici’s swim, it seems like Biedermann’s world record time of 1:42.00 might not be so out of reach anymore.

Something else that factored into Popovici’s greatness this year was his remarkable consistency. He won the 100 and 200 free at every major long course international meet that he competed at: the World Championships, the European Championships, the World Junior Championships, and the European Championships. In addition, he also established his world dominance in both events, clocking the seven fastest 100 free performances (he recorded 16 total sub-48 swims) and the three fastest 200 free performances of 2022.

To culminate the year, Popovici saw major improvements in his short course swimming. After doubting his short course abilities prior to the 2022 Short Course World Championships, he went on to break the 100 free world junior record in a time of 45.64 to finish fourth, and then swam a 1:40.79 to take second in the 200 free.

Beyond his performances, Popovici lit up swimming with his unfiltered personality. Upon breaking the 100 free, the self-proclaimed “Chlorine Daddy” went onto call himself a “Skinny Legend,” and then told media outlets that his next goal was to go 45-point.

Since the era of Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe, have we seen any other male teenager do what Popovici did? Because the answer is no, Popovici is the clear-cut pick as the male swimmer of the year for 2022.


  • Kristof Milak, Hungary — Milak furthered his dominance in the 200 fly, breaking his own world record time of 1:50.73 to go 1:50.34 in front of a home crowd at the 2022 World Championships. He swept the 100 and 200 fly events at both the World and European championships, becoming the first male to do so on a world stage since Chad Le Clos in 2013. In addition, he began to take up the freestyle events, clocking a 47.47 Hungarian record to take second behind Popovici at the World Championships in the 100 free. He also spit 46.89 on Hungary’s 4×100 free relay at the World Championships, which was the second-fastest rolling split in the field.
  • Leon Marchand, France — In one of the biggest swims of the year, Marchand went 4:04.28 to take World Championships gold in the 400 IM, getting just 0.44 seconds away from Michael Phelps‘ world record time of 4:03.84. This swim was particularly impressive because no other swimmer had been a second of Phelps’ record in the past. Marchand also won the 200 IM in a time of 1:55.22 to win Worlds gold and went 1:53.37 in the 200 fly to take silver, clearly establishing himself as the best IMer and one of the most versatile swimmers in the world. His success in the NCAA deserves to be mentioned as well, as he was 2022’s top male collegiate swimmer by virtue of his two individual NCAA titles and his NCAA and US Open record in the 200 IM.


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1 year ago

Well deserved award for Chlorinedaddy. Popovici is a one in a million swimmer, period.

1 year ago

I’m a super fan of Milak and I even think that his 1.50.3 (and even the 1.50.7 before) are better than the 46.8 of DP.

However when taking all in account it’s impossible to dissociate the fact that DP was 17 breaking the WR in the blue ribband event of swimming. Something even milak did not (even though he was amazing at 17 an 18 also).

Also, DP won everything from juniores to seniores, breaking records the whole summer…record after record…barrier after barrier… 1.44, then 1.43… first man ever swimming under 47 two times…and also beating milak in freestyle at a peak meet…

There is no way DP isn’t swimmer of the year 2022. It’s closer than some people try… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by GrameziPT
Sunday Morning Grind
1 year ago

I vote Milak. Milak’s fly ties Popovici’s free but Milak is also a top tier freestyler.

He’s faster than GOAT in freestyle and butterfly and it’s not even close if you compare textile to textile.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sunday Morning Grind
There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 year ago

Chlorine Daddy wins this for the hype and that’s OK, but objectively speaking I think Milak has the more impressive resume this year.

50.14/1:50.3 is roughly on par with 46.86/1:42.97 then you add in Milak’s freestyle which gives him the edge.

In particular 1:50.3 is absolutely nuts. 1.2 seconds clear of supersuited GOAT and 2+ seconds clear of everyone else I mean come on…


It’s not ok, why would you even make an award if you know you’re not going to give it to the actual best swimmer and your judgement is based on hype?

Last edited 1 year ago by Davide
Reply to  Davide
1 year ago

As a fan of Milak, there is no way he had a better year than Popovici.

Daddy Chill

“if you win the 200 [freestyle] and you swim the race in a way that I like to see it, I’ll present you with your gold medal”. Ian Thorpe surley was impressed

1 year ago

The scariest thing about Popovici is how obvious where he can still drop time is. Starts, turns, and underwaters are quite tangible areas to improve in, whereas the over the water speed isn’t. And he already has everyone else beat there…

Over the course of this short course season he made noticeable strides in those areas even if in the end they’re still the reason why he wasn’t really in contention in the 100 and lost the 200 to a great performance from Hwang.

This new generation of swimmers is very exciting.

Last edited 1 year ago by IM FAN
1 year ago

Well deserved: Popovici, Ceccon, Milak, and Marchand will dominate in Paris in 24 🙂

1 year ago

European men are killing it right now, if this is the top 3 in the world (which I agree with). Then I think ceccon is 4th in the world. Then paltrinieri is definitely top 10, Duncan Scott and an on form peaty are also probably top 10 in the world

Reply to  Klorn8d
1 year ago

Got me thinking and I’d put my world top ten men as:
Dressel(if he’s still swimming(gotta remember he still had the top time in the world in 3 events)
Rylov (another European I forgot about)
Koleskinov(another euro)

HM: finke, Romanchuk, Murphy, martineghi, fink, peaty, casas(more on potential than achievements), foster, Tom dean, Duncan Scott,

That’s very up for debate, I probably forgot people. Thought more about top 10 than order within that 10. But that’s 7 in my top 10 and 12/20. Pretty dominant

Reply to  Yanyan Li
1 year ago

Good point, I’d take him out and put foster or finke in.

Obese Legend
Reply to  Klorn8d
1 year ago

There are a lot of question marks surrounding Dressel and Peaty right now. If they are back to form, they should be in top 10, but that’s a big if.
Rylov is also a question mark. Comtroversy aside, he hasn’t done much this season although there’s no need to swim fast at whatever local meets he’s in. It’s hard to judge where he’s really at right now.
I’ll also give HMs to Proud, Wellbrock and Winnington.

Reply to  Obese Legend
1 year ago

Yeah I agree, all three of those guys deserve it

Reply to  Obese Legend
1 year ago

I feel like some people forget that winnington swam the fastest time in the world in 10 years although it wasn’t too close to the WR it was still noteworthy for being about a second away. Which I feel means will see someone take a run at the WR for the next 2 seasons.

Reply to  Klorn8d
1 year ago

How can you have anyone other than Milak as the number 1? His fly is at least as impressive as Popovici’s free and he’s a top freestyler too

Reply to  Davide
1 year ago

Unquestionable when analyzed objectively. By the numbers.

Reply to  Davide
1 year ago

The 200fly is not a blue chip event. If he had also popped a 49 mid 100fly then maybe.

Fraser Thorpe
Reply to  Davide
1 year ago

He looks to have suffered from a multitude of factors:

1) a victim of his own success. His new WR felt ‘expected’. He unfairly needed to go sub 1:50 to get ‘wow’ factor. Which is totally unfair.

2) David is a generational talent and a teenage phenom. It disproportionately hypes up everything he does.

3) the WR David broke is a blue ribband event and a vaunted super suited record that eluded two of the most talked about swimmers of the last few years which added further to its lustre.

4) DP getting under 2 massive barriers in a year again just has more ‘wow’ – milak unfairly just didn’t have those numbers and barriers available to him to get… Read more »

Reply to  Davide
1 year ago

Milak’s freestyle time was great but you cannot say it has not been done by others.

1 year ago

WhErE’s ThE wInTeR jUnIoRs SwImSwAm BrEaKdOwN

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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