A Deep Dive Into Romania’s Potential to Build Relays Around David Popovici

After breaking the World Record in the 100 meter freestyle last week at the European Championships, Romanian 17-year old David Popovici is the hottest and highest name in the world of swimming.

He is not the first big name swimmer to come from a country without many other serious medal contenders internationally. In fact, he can look to his countrymate Camelia Potec, who was the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the 200 free, but who wasn’t enough to push the Romanian 800 free relay past 11th place at those Games.

She wasn’t on a total swimming island in her country. Beatrice Caslaru that year finished 8th in the women’s 200 IM, and Razvan Florea actually won a bronze medal for the men in the 200 backstroke.

But a lack of relay pressure for Potec is likely at least a part of why she had so much success individually.

Every swimmer in this situation will say their goal is to develop the sport in their country, to lift the swimmers around them to create a full-scale swimming powerhouse. That sort of development is pretty rare – usually there’s a good structural reason why a country isn’t producing deeper teams – but it is the dream.

That sort of rise can be a double-edged sword, however. Swimmers like Popovici have the freedom to make their own schedules without having to worry about conflicts or fatigue from relays. The travel schedule, the training camp schedule, the coaching staff – all of these things will revolve around him headed toward the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. And if he can stand up to that pressure (and everything we know about him so far indicates that he can), the results could be spectacular.

But it drives curiosity: what would Romania’s relays look like at the Paris 2024 Olympics? Are there other swimmers with the potential, using Popovici as their model, to rise up and give the country a viable shot at a final?

Romania has never had a men’s relay qualify for an Olympic final, and only once in a long course World Championship (the 400 medley in 2007). The women have had a little more success – unsurprisingly, its best finish tied to Potec. In 2000, she led the women’s 800 free relay to a 4th-place finish, albeit almost three seconds behind the bronze medalists from Germany. Four years earlier, they were 7th in the same relay in its Atlanta debut.

They also had a 7th-place 400 medley relay at the 1980 Games, though that relay probably wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the global boycotts that kept swimming powerhouses like the US away.

Romania didn’t enter any relays at the 2022 World Championships. In fact, the country entered only two swimmers altogether: Robert Glinta, who made finals in both the 50 and 100 meter backstrokes, also raced.

So could Romania, if they risked Popovici’s energy, make waves in a relay by Paris 2024? Let’s look at the possibilities.

Men’s 400 Medley Relay

  • Romanian Record: 3:37.57 (2009)
  • Time to Final in Tokyo: 3:32.37

The aforementioned Glinta makes this a good place to start. His presence means that Romania has the fastest swimmer in the world as an anchor, and a top-class backstroker on the leadoff leg.

But who goes in between?

Fastest Romanian 400 Medley Relay, Based on PBs:

  • Robert Glinta – 52.88 (born 1997)
  • Emil Danacanet – 1:04.87 (born 2004)
  • George Ratiu – 54.58 (born 2000)
  • David Popovici – 46.86 (born 2004)
  • Add-Up Time: 3:39.19
  • Add-Up Time minus relay exchanges (est): 3:37.69

There are clear gaps in the middle of this relay, but the good news is that there’s some youth there too. Danacanet is the same age as Popovici, though he’s only dropped about a tenth of a second off his best time in the last year. The country’s #2 is even younger: 15-year old Darius-Stefan Coman with a best of 1:06.09 from late July at the European Youth Olympic Festival.

If they wanted to stick with the 2004 theme, the country’s next-best butterflier is another teenager: Ghile Dragos at 54.83, not far behind Ratiu.

Accounting for relay starts, the country needs to find at least another six seconds off this relay, and it doesn’t seem likely that Glinta or Popovici will contribute much of that. Seeing Popovici’s success, will the country dump resources into Dragos or Coman or Danacanet to get them there? It’s still a tall task. Even a realistic 1:01-low on the breaststroke leg and 52-mid on the fly leg probably won’t be enough.

Men’s 400 Free Relay

  • Romanian Record: 3:16.54 (2016)
  • Time to Final in Tokyo: 3:13.13

Romania doesn’t have another swimmer who has been under 50 seconds in the 100 free this year besides Popovici, though Glinta did so last year.

Fastest Romanian 400 Free Relay, Based on PBs:

  • David Popovici – 46.86 (born 2004)
  • Robert Glinta – 49.73 (born 1997)
  • George-Alexandru Stoica-Constantin – 50.01 (born 2000)
  • Dinu Sebastian – 50.45 (born 2005)
  • Add-Up Time: 3:17.05
  • Add-Up Time minus relay exchanges (est): 3:15.55

The Romanian Record in this race isn’t that old. If Popovici had come along six or seven years earlier, the country probably could have made a final at the 2016 Olympic Games.

The good news is that there’s some youth here. Dinu Sebastian would be among the top-ranked swimmers of a similar age even in the US, and there are some other young talent behind him – Mihai Gergely went 50.90 two weeks ago (b. 2005) and Stefan Cozma went 51.10 in April (born 2005). An even younger swimmer, Alexandru Constantinescu, went 51.57 in July (born 2006).

I don’t know if this group can be ready in time for Paris. But if they stick together, stay in the sport, and get some resources, there’s some great potential there. They did win the 400 free relay at the European Junior Championships, which was a huge deal for them, so that could provide a big springboard for this group.

Men’s 800 Free Relay

  • Romanian Record: 7:28.43 (2022)
  • Time to Final in Tokyo 2020: 7:07.73

Popovici broke the World Record in the 100 free, but he’s also the fastest in the world (both by winning the World title, and having the best time from the European Championships) in the 200 free as well.

Fastest Romanian 800 Free Relay, Based on PBs:

  • David Popovici – 1:42.97 (born 2004)
  • Stefan Stancu Vlad – 1:52.73 (born 2005)
  • Stefan Cozma – 1:52.77 (born 2005)
  • Mihai Gergely – 1:53.18 (born 2003)
  • Add-Up Time: 7:21.65
  • Add-Up Time minus relay exchanges (est): 7:20.15

Okay, I’ll admit. This one looks really bad, though their add-up time is way faster than the National Record (which included Popovici at a Multinations meet earlier this year).

But there’s some hope. Stancu is a legitimate international-caliber swimmer who won three individual medals at the European Junior Championships – gold in the 1500 free (15:05.47), silver in the 800 free (7:54.02), and silver in the 400 free (3:50.61).

So that means he’ll get some focus, resources, and coaching.

Otherwise, it’s the same story of banking on someone to keep developing. If you give Popovici 1:43s on a relay leadoff, the rest of the group needs to average 1:48.2s in order to make a final. That seems within range, with Israel as a recent example of a country that was able to develop a mess of those kind of guys recently. Maybe Romania should get David Marsh on the phone.

Mixed 400 Medley Relay

  • Romanian Record: 4:02.07 (2018)
  • Time to Final in Tokyo 2020: 3:43.94

Ignore the National Record here, which was set at the European Junior Championships. Mixed relays, which still don’t have full buy-in from around the world, are an event that so far has room for a lesser swimming nation to sneak into an Olympic final.

The problem, though, is that Romania has a severely underdeveloped women’s program at present.

Fastest Romanian Mixed 400 Medley Relay, Based on PBs:

  • Robert Glinta – 52.88 (born 1997)
  • Ingrid Huszar – 1:10.85 (born 2003)
  • Victoria Bogdaneci – 1:01.46 (born 1995)
  • David Popovici – 46.86 (born 2004)
  • Add Up Time: 3:52.05
  • Add-Up Time minus relay exchanges (est): 3:50.55

One of the rare cases where there’s a true veteran in Romanian swimming, Victoria Bogdaneci swam a best time in the 100 fly in 2022 at 27 years old. But not far behind her is a 15-year old named Eva Parischiv, who has been 1:02.01 this year (and has dropped two-and-a-half seconds in the last two months alone).

So there’s definitely something cooking here.

If she can get that time down another two seconds by Paris, they start knocking on the door of a final. The biggest problem is that they don’t really have much uber-young talent to develop in the women’s breaststrokes.

In Summary

There is some other young talent floating around in Romania – but there always is. Talent in places like Romania usually retire before they can become veterans, because they rarely get over the hump to be worth sustaining into a senior-level career.

Romania does have some benefits if they decide to go after this. One is is that they’d probably have an outside lane, or be in a slow heat, at the qualifying meets (World Championships) thanks to dreadfully low seed times. If we follow the belief that the smaller-framed Popovici will struggle against bigger bodies, that could work to their favor in a relay.

But you never know when a spark will catch, especially among teenage boys. I think Romania has to use this to see if they can build a deeper base in swimming (and they seem to have some resources available, based on the 200,000 Euro check they handed Popovici this summer).

My thought would be that they should pick a relay, probably the men’s 400 or 800 free relay makes the most sense, and go after that. Call it “project 200” or some similarly-catchy name, and put your focus into developing those other three guys to go with him.

Then again, Popovici, and the rest, are all young enough that this doesn’t even have to be a Paris project. They could let Popovici erupt and dominate the Games individually, and make this their LA 2028 goal (where Popovici, by the way, will still only be 24 years old).

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NathenDrake
1 month ago

These times even terrible at junior level. One man not gonna change the swimming in a country like Romania, which has 1 or 2 decent male swimmers in 200 decades.

DMSWIM
1 month ago

“By FINA rules, David Popovici is only allowed to swim one leg of a relay.” I would love to see FINA allow someone to do more than one leg. Seeing a swimmer do a leg, get out, and dive in again in under a minute would be quite a show!

2Fat4Speed
1 month ago

Him not swimming relays would save his energy and make it possible for him to be the first champion in the 100, 200, and 400. I’d rather see this than a Romanian 7th place finish in a relay.

Alison England
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
1 month ago

Exactly! It is definitely advantageous to him to only swim individual events.

He Gets It Done Again
1 month ago

You know you’re great when people feel the need to clarify that you can only swim one leg of the relay.

Go Kamminga Go
1 month ago

What’s happening with the biggest name in men’s swimming, Caeleb Dressel?

Dressel GOAT
Reply to  Go Kamminga Go
1 month ago

According to Meghan’s IG, they’re spending currently their honeymoon in Iceland 🇮🇸. They’ve just arrived yesterday.

comment image

Go Kamminga Go
Reply to  Dressel GOAT
1 month ago

Nice!

I hope he can start swimming again soon.

Retired Swimmer
Reply to  Go Kamminga Go
1 month ago

I hope he can relax and enjoy his honeymoon without being bugged by people about whether he is swimming or not.

Nigel
Reply to  Go Kamminga Go
1 month ago

You mean Popovici – Dressel is yesterday’s story.

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

Banner picture looks like it could be a cover for a “My Chlorine Romance” album.

NB1
1 month ago

I am curious, if a 1:47 swimmer were to start with a 56.5 first 100, could he then go a 50.5 sec for the second 100?
something like 28.5, 28, 26, 24.5?

theo
1 month ago

Every swimmer in this situation will say their goal is to develop the sport in their country, to lift the swimmers around them to create a full-scale swimming powerhouse. That sort of development is pretty rare – usually there’s a good structural reason why a country isn’t producing deeper teams – but it is the dream.”

True, but Adam Peaty did it, no?

theo
Reply to  theo
1 month ago

obviously not quiteeeee the same, because GBR in 2014 looked deeper than Romania in 2022. But also its easy to forget just how NOT deep/strong GBR was pre-2014…

Another lesson from this story of GBR might be this: if you track the country’s high point as being to their 4×100 mens medley gold in 2019, is that this took 5 years from Peaty’s first individual WR in the 1breast in 2014. So, could Romania win gold in the 4×100 free or medley in 2027? Maybe!

Last edited 1 month ago by theo
Reid
Reply to  theo
1 month ago

I mean it’s just not even remotely the same level

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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