With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games fewer than 3 years away, swim enthusiasts are already taking a closer look at which young swimmers may prove to be breakout stars with more training and experience under their belts.
Already in Tokyo this summer we saw then-16-year-old David Popovici of Romania and 18-year-old Hwang Sunwoo of Korea make the finals of both the men’s 100m and 200m freestyle. We also saw Brits Jacob Whittle and Matt Richards contribute to their nation’s relays in a big way.
Since the Olympics, both Flynn Southam of Australia and Matt Sates of South Africa have lit up the pool in their respective nations and beyond, adding their names to the elite list of young guns on which to keep our eye.
With the aforementioned swimmers’ ages ranging from 16 for Southam on the younger end and Richards at 18 — going on 19 in December — on the older end, they comprise a stealthy sextet that may indeed bring a perfect storm of talent, training and maturity to Paris.
Before we get there, though, let’s examine what these young men have accomplished in the meantime across the common denominator events of the long course 100 and 200 freestyles.
|LCM Event||Time||Date||Age on Swim Date||Age Today|
|David Popovici (ROU)||100 Free||47.30||July 2021||16||17|
|200 Free||1:44.68||July 2021||16|
|Matt Sates (RSA)||100 Free||49.29||April 2021||17||18|
|200 Free||1:48.08||April 2021||17|
|Hwang Sunwoo (KOR)||100 Free||47.56||July 2021||18||18|
|200 Free||1:44.62||July 2021||18|
|Flynn Southam (AUS)||100 Free||49.55||April 2021||15||16|
|200 Free||1:49.66||April 2021||15|
|Matt Richards (GBR)||100 Free||48.23||April 2021||18||18|
|200 Free||1:45.77||April 2021||18|
|Jacob Whittle (GBR)||100 Free||48.11||July 2021||16||17|
|200 Free||1:48.10||June 2021||16|
As of today, Popovici owns this field with the quickest 100m freestyle to date, a 47.30 Romanian record he produced en route to gold at this year’s European Junior Championships. When he clocked that time as a 16-year-old in July, right before the Tokyo Olympics, it established a new World Junior Record and set the stage for his Olympic debut.
Although Popovici was slightly slower in Tokyo, ultimately finishing in a time of 48.04 for 7th place, the Romanian wrecking ball was perhaps even more impressive in the 200m free final.
Stopping the clock in a time of 1:44.68, Popovici wrangled up yet another World Junior Record and finished only .02 off the podium in 4th place.
Also eyecatching in that men’s 200m free race was Hwang of South Korea, with the dynamic athlete opening in a fearless 49.78. The 18-year-old wound up placing 7th in the race with a final mark of 1:45.26 but posted a 1:44.62 national record in the heats to introduce himself to the world.
In the Olympic 100m free Hwang popped a mark of 47.56 in the semi-final for a new Asian record before settling for 5th in 47.82.
Since then, Hwang’s most notable performance came just this week in the 200m IM at the Korean National Sports Festival. The teen logged a time of 1:58.04 in just his 2nd time ever racing the event. That result overtook the longstanding national record set by Park Tae Hwan, with Hwang becoming the first man from his nation to break the 2:00 barrier.
Also since Tokyo, South Africa’s Sates has been making some major noise across the short course meters pool. The University of Georgia-bound teen fired off three World Junior Records in the past two weeks while competing on the FINA World Cup circuit.
The 18-year-old first produced a pair of phenomenal swims in Berlin, establishing new WJR marks in the 200m free and 200m IM of 1:40.65 and 1:51.45, respectively. One week later he scorched a 400m free mark of 3:37.92.
Although Sates’ long course best times in the 100m and 200m freestyle events are nothing extraordinary, they were produced before his short course siege, so we’ll have to wait and see what this young man has brewing in his tank for long course.
As for Richards and Whittle, their relay prowess has been proven, with Richards contributing to a new European Record in the men’s 4x200m free relay via his 1:45.01 split in Tokyo.
Both of the teens also pulled their weight in the prelims of the men’s 4x100m free relay, with Richards leading off in 48.23 and Whittle clocking the fastest split of the squad in 47.50, despite GBR placing 9th and out of the final.
That leaves us with the final member of this elite posse, that of Southam of Bond in Australia. At just 16 years of age, Southam is the youngest of the crew but holds his own in the conversation of potential disruptors in Paris due to his recent ventures.
In December of 2020, a then-15-year-old Southam broke through in a big way, firing off a big lifetime best of 49.66 in the men’s 100m freestyle at the Queensland LC Championships. His time overtook the Aussie Age Record of 49.68 held by multi-Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers.
Southam would drop that down to 49.55 in April of this year before taking a short break and not pursuing Tokyo.
Back in the game, Southam posted a mark of 48.05 in the short course 100 freestyle just a few weeks ago at the Queensland Championships, giving us a hint as to what this natural talent has in store.
We want to hear from you. Which of these stealthy six will impress us the most come Paris 2024, or is there another star bubbling beneath the international swimming surface who could spoil the party for these talented young men?