A Closer Look At The ‘Stealthy Six’ Men Set To Disrupt The Paris 2024 Olympics

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?

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Texas swims in a short pool
10 days ago

Might want to include Youssef Ramadan. Dropped from a. 53.4 to 51 mid last year and Sergio coached the last non American to win that race

Chas E
Reply to  Texas swims in a short pool
10 days ago

No Sergio didn’t- Eddie Reese did.

Dressel is a sprint god
Reply to  Texas swims in a short pool
10 days ago

He won in 2016, and then Remel Dressel aka “Mister 17.6 no fins” schooled him in 2018 by going 42.8

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Dressel is a sprint god
9 days ago

Still, they both have a single 100 fly Olympic title.

Jarvis
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
9 days ago

I guess thats one way of looking at it. Yeah, they are basically equal.

Ragnar
10 days ago

You mean Popovici, AKA the Vanquishing Vampire AKA the Romanian Rocket AKA the Chlorine Cowboy AKA the Transylvanian Tiger AKA the Balkin Bombardier AKA the Devil of the Danube Delta? Yeah he’s pretty good

Blackflag82
Reply to  Ragnar
10 days ago

you better trademark those quick…at least one of those could be what Rowdy is shouting in 2024 😛

McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
Reply to  Blackflag82
10 days ago

none of those quite live up to chlorine daddy

Monteswim
Reply to  Ragnar
10 days ago

Is Popovici becoming the new Dean?

Togger
Reply to  Monteswim
9 days ago

I love Dean, but even now he’s not close to two Olympic finals speed.

If Popovici improves as much as Dean did during the peak meme years, kid’s going to be 45 mid by Paris.

Dee
Reply to  Togger
9 days ago

Dean didn’t really swim freestyle before Bath, so his progression is a bit exaggerated. 1.54 to 1.44 and 52 to 48 between 2018 and Tokyo. Kids now have the same amount of time until Paris, so this really demonstrates how much could change.

Troyy
Reply to  Dee
9 days ago

I think they’re talking about Farris.

Robbos
Reply to  Troyy
9 days ago

Haha that was what I thought.
Popovici becoming the new Dean, he would love to be like the British Dean more then the American Dean.

whever
Reply to  Robbos
9 days ago

Maybe he would love to train with the Australian Dean.

tea rex
Reply to  Dee
9 days ago

That’s a great reference point. The 2024 Olympic champion could very well be some kid whose best time is 1:52 today.

HJones
Reply to  Monteswim
9 days ago

Popovici is actually a world-class swimmer, unlike Dean.

Mojo
Reply to  Ragnar
9 days ago

In Paris, Popovici will win in both 100 and 200 free. Period.

Nordic
10 days ago

Who are the US candidates?

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Nordic
10 days ago

comment image

PhillyMark
Reply to  Nordic
10 days ago

Heilman & Diehl come to mind

coachymccoachface
Reply to  PhillyMark
10 days ago

Heilman is 14 still

Horninco
Reply to  Nordic
10 days ago

Nobody quite in that range but Jack Alexy, David Curtiss, Adam Chaney all improving quickly

Ledecky will go under 8 minutes in the 800
Reply to  Horninco
10 days ago

Matt Fallon too

another Tomek
Reply to  Nordic
10 days ago

Thomas Hellman maybe for 2028?

Admin
Reply to  another Tomek
10 days ago

Daniel Diehl

Blackflag82
Reply to  Nordic
9 days ago

Some 13 year old you’ve probably never heard of…

Willswim
Reply to  Nordic
9 days ago

Carson Foster is still a teenager.

HJones
Reply to  Willswim
9 days ago

He still didn’t make the Olympic team.

Austinpoolboy
Reply to  HJones
9 days ago

Makes him an up and comer

Togger
10 days ago

Hard to see past Popvici given how much physical development he looks still to have to come and the speed he’s already going. Whittle too to a lesser extent.

What’s startling is I would be far from shocked if neither Dressel nor Chalmers on the podium in only 3 years time, after 5 years where they’ve dominated the events.

Tony
Reply to  Togger
9 days ago

Promising teenagers in sports who didn’t win Olympic gold — Tale as old as time (well, as old as the Olympics).
Popovici seems the most likely, but don’t count out those who have proved themselves. I could see Dressel and Chalmers repeating 1, 2 in the 100 free in Paris. (I rate this 50/50, but give Dressel >50% as to repeating in the 50 free and 100 fly.)

swimfans
Reply to  Tony
9 days ago

nah, kolesnikov will spoiled the party

whever
10 days ago

It’s hard to predict what is going to happen three years latter.
People love to hype up young talents but sometimes veterans win. Looking back to three years ago, I don’t think many thought 27-year-old Emma McKeon would be the female star that shines in Tokyo.
Sometimes swimmers that few people heard of show up in the Olympic year and take the win. Hafnaoui is an quite unknown name compared to other young talents like Winnington, Neill, Smith etc, but it’s him that finally won gold at the Olympics.

There are also many other examples:
Bobby Finke once lagged behind Neill, Grgic and many others in his teenage years.
Kolesnikov was once the Russian that is… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by whever
Joel
Reply to  whever
10 days ago

Neill swam a 1.44 relay split in Tokyo – he had just turned 19

whever
Reply to  Joel
10 days ago

I’m not saying Neill did poorly, but Hafnaoui is at the same age with him and few people would put him ahead of Neill on the list of potential challengers a year ago. I’m just using this example to say how unpredictable an Olympic could be. It’s definitely probable that Neill achieves more than Hafnaoui in the future. Anything is possible in the sport.

swimapologist
Reply to  whever
10 days ago

No you’re right whever, “anything can happen in sport” so let’s just stop talking about it stop watching it stop following it and just wait for someone to Tweet the results.

It constantly amazes me how many condescending swim people just have no sense of what it means to be a ‘sports fan.’

Steve Nolan
Reply to  whever
10 days ago

This is the perspective we tend to lack looking at these kids.

I’ve set a reminder to look at this post in 3 years…I would take a bet that a majority of the kids on that list won’t make an individual final in Paris. (I was going to say “semifinal” at first but that seems like TOO bold a bet, but I wouldn’t be shocked.)

AThomas
Reply to  Steve Nolan
9 days ago

A majority would have to be 4 so I’d take the under on that. But the point is still valid. My unscientific observation is that the teenage phenom-strokers have more success than the freestylers. But I am not sure if that is true.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  AThomas
9 days ago

And two of ’em were already double-finalists! That’s why it’s so hard.

The GB kids might even have trouble even getting an individual swim, GB has some Guys in their events. Then Southam is almost too young to project and Sates has only had those big swims in SCM so far.

Andy Hardt
Reply to  whever
10 days ago

One of the best posts I’ve read on this site!

Fortune500
Reply to  whever
9 days ago

Oleksiak will be an animal in 2024 if she can put together 3 years of training.

GrameziPT
Reply to  whever
9 days ago

This post is 10/10. Well said

Swim fan
10 days ago

The disrespect of now putting me on this list

Hswimmer
10 days ago

Carson Foster?

Just give the trophy to the condors already
Reply to  Hswimmer
10 days ago

Nah

dddddddd

gigachad

Hank
Reply to  Hswimmer
9 days ago

Carson is heir apparent to Kalisz in the IMs. Not sure he’ll be a factor in the individual 2free? A 200ba or 200fly maybe?

Just give the trophy to the condors already
10 days ago

Don’t forget local boys Ndoye Brouard and Leon Marchand

Last edited 10 days ago by Just give the trophy to the condors already

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Swim analyst, businesswoman.

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