Race Analysis: How Did David Popovici Break Cesar Cielo’s 100 Free World Record?




  1. David Popovici (ROU) – 46.86 (WORLD RECORD)
  2. Kristof Milak (HUN) – 47.47
  3. Alessandro Miressi (ITA) – 47.63
  4. Maxime Grousset (FRA) – 47.78
  5. Nandor Nemeth (HUN) – 48.01
  6. Lorenzo Zazzeri (ITA) – 48.10
  7. Thomas Dean (GBR) – 48.23
  8. Andrej Barna (SRB) – 48.38

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from 17-year-old Romanian David Popovici‘s earth-shattering World Record in the men’s LCM 100 freestyle at the 2022 European Championships tonight, let’s take a moment to examine the race. Specifically, let’s compare Popovici’s race tonight to the former World Record swim by now-retired Brazilian swimmer Cesar Cielo. Of course, it’s been well reported by now that the previous World Record of 46.91 was set by Cielo in the very same pool 13 years ago almost to the day.

Below, you’ll find separate YouTube race videos of Popovici’s swim tonight and Cielo’s race from the 2009 World Championships.

David Popovici‘s World Record Race – 2022 European Championships Finals:

Cesar Cielo World Record Race – 2009 World Championships Finals:

After watching the two races separately, you’re probably already noticing some differences between the two fastest 100 freestylers in history. Thankfully, swimming commentator and media personality Kyle Sockwell also tweeted out this split screen video comparison of the two races so you can watch and compare them simultaneously.

Let’s start before the race even begins. How do David Popovici and Cesar Cielo stack up against each other physically? Cielo is significantly bigger than Popovici, standing at 6-foot-5 to Popovici’s 6-foot-3. Cielo, who was 22 at the time he set the World Record in 2009 had also packed on significantly more muscle than the 17-year-old Popovici has to this point in his career. In fact, Popovici has notably referred to himself as a “skinny legend,” referring to his extremely thin frame. It also should be noted that, of course, Cielo’s record was set in the “super suit” era and that he is wearing a full body tech suit in his race, while Popovici is only wearing a kneeskin.

From an underwater kicks perspective, the pair swam essentially the same race. By my count, Cielo did 4 underwater dolphin kicks off the start before breaking out, while Popovici did 5 tonight. Then, it appears to me that both swimmers did 4 kicks off the turn as well, meaning Popovici did maybe 1 more underwater kick total than Cielo in the race. Both swimmers also had noticeably fast flips within their heats, tucking into a tight ball and getting the feet around extremely quickly.

How do their stroke counts stack up against each other? The videos available right now make it difficult to track, with the POV changing a number of times throughout the race, however, after a number of viewings at slowed speeds, I feel comfortable with my counts. If we are able to find videos with more consistent angles, we’ll revisit the counts to make sure they are accurate. By my count, Cielo took 32 strokes on the 1st 50, while Popovici took 31. I had both swimmers taking 36 strokes on the 2nd 50 of the race, meaning by my count, Cielo totaled 68 strokes in his race, while Popovici took 1 less overall (67).

If you watch the pair closely, you’ll see that one thing they both do is take a little longer than the others in their races at setting up their catches on each stroke. It may take a few viewings to notice, but you can see that both Popovici and Cielo move just a little bit slower at the very beginning of each of their strokes, taking just a tiny bit of extra time to set themselves up to grab a hold of the water, pressing down, and beginning to shape their pulls.

A noticeable difference between the 2 swimmers is that Cielo appears to swim a little flatter than Popovici. By this, I mean that Cielo doesn’t quite rotate his body as much from side-to-side when he swims, while Popovici does. Popovici rolls down particularly far onto his left side.

Another difference is that Popovici is able to maintain the tempo of his stroke throughout the race, while Cielo’s stroke rate slows down just a little in the final 25m of his race. After measuring the stroke rates several times each with a stopwatch, it appears that Popovici’s tempo on his 1st 50 is just slightly faster than Cielo’s. The main difference between the 2 is that when I measured Popovici’s rate again in the final 25m, his tempo was the same, while Cielo’s tempo had gone down by approximately 5 strokes per minute.

This could be a reason why Popovici’s 2nd 50 is so much faster than Cielo’s, 24.12 to 24.71. If Popovici is maintaining his stroke rate throughout the race, it would stand to reason that he would be maintaining his speed as well, provided he’s keeping his good technique intact. If we take into account that he has a start on the 1st 50, the 1.38 seconds margin of difference between Popovici’s 1st and 2nd 50 should be mostly due to the speed and momentum he gained from the start versus pushing off the wall for the 2nd 50. On the other hand, while amount Cielo’s stroke rate slowed at the end of his race isn’t anything dramatic, it could certainly be a big contributing factor to why his 2nd 50 was 2.57 seconds slower than his 1st, compared to Popovici’s margin of 1.32 seconds.

Here is the split comparison between the World Record swims:

Splits David Popovici – 2022 European Championships Cesar Cielo – 2009 World Championships
50m 22.74 22.17
100m 24.12 24.74
FINAL TIME 46.86 46.91

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Tracy Kosinski
1 year ago

Congratulations to the 🐐!! Thanks for posting the video guys! Finally broken, this WR could potentially switch hands a few times before Paris 2024. How exciting!

Reply to  Tracy Kosinski
1 year ago

Chlorinedaddy will switch the WR from one of his hands to other and back again.

Tracy Kosinski
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

LOL, love it.

1 year ago

I love this kid. Cannot wait to see more from him and his career.

1 year ago

Let’s give some credit to his club coach. Not long ago he was just an age grouper with some potential.

Reply to  Hank
1 year ago

His coach is the main reason for Popovici’s achievements.

1 year ago

I think the biggest difference between Cielo and Popovici is that the former was a 50/100 swimmer while the former is a 100/200 one. Popovici should be able to gain power and thus speed while keeping his stamina. Thus, I can see him splitting 22.5/24 for a final 26.5.

Reply to  Crawler
1 year ago

That’s been something that Dressel has spoken on and why his WR window is even smaller at this point (at least for the 100m free). He’s been fairly adamant about stating he doesn’t “generate” a lot of speed while racing, he just tries to maintain it for as long as possible. Makes sense for his 50, because he can just get out ahead of the field, but when people come home like David does, you have to recognize how insanely difficult that is.

1 year ago

This year has greatly altered what we thought the most untouchable WRs are. Sliding out of the conversation are Cielo, Biederman, and Phelps. Now, the untouchable WRs are the 800 free (seriously, peak Paltrinieri and Finke are 7 seconds away) and the 200 back (why is that event so sluggish these days? The event desperately needs fresh talent). The 400 free is third, although Galossi scares me in that event.

At this point, a Popovici-level talent is needed to threaten the 800 WR.

1 year ago

Why is the 800WR so much more untouchable than the 1500WR? Just a higher degree of cheating for that supersuited swim?

Reply to  Henri
1 year ago

The 1500 isn’t a supersuited world record, and many people have been close to the 1500. Outside of 2009, I don’t believe anyone has been within 6 seconds of the 800 record.

Reply to  Henri
1 year ago

Zhang Lin negative spliced in the 800m freestyle. That is why it is so hard to break.

1 year ago

I think the 400 free goes down soon tbh, I’m going with Popovici or Galossi, as you said. I think Dressel by the end of his career has got the 50m free, and like you said the only super suit men’s records I see taking a while are Lin’s 800 and Peirsol’s 200 back.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
1 year ago

Remember, Peirsol on wore a legsuit.

Reply to  MarkB
1 year ago


1 year ago

Milak sitting on the lane applauding at the end was hilarious. He must have gotten deja vú watching the coming of a new god like it was for him in 2019, just in a third POV and different event. So entertaining to watch!

Piss Pooler
1 year ago

By swimming faster?

1 year ago

They had both someone just ahead of them at the 50m….

k Chillt
Reply to  DutchinUSA
1 year ago

Makes me wonder if maybe there is something to being behind on the first 50 and catching a little draft. I could see a Popovici versus Dressel race getting Popovici in more ideal drafting position with how fast Dressel is on the start and the first 50.

Prediction -> Caeleb Dressel goes 46.92 at 2023 worlds splitting 22.29, 24.63 out of lane 5
Same race in lane 4 Popovici goes 46.55 with the splits of 22.40, 24.15 thanks in part to a draft off of Dressel.

Reply to  k Chillt
1 year ago

Dressel ain’t breaking 47 ever again.