SwimSwam Pulse: 42.6% Would Name Men’s Sprint Free Award After Alexander Popov

SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side.

Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers who the “men’s sprint freestyle swimmer of the year” award should be named after if it came into existence:

Question: If swimming had annual awards for the best swimmer in every stroke, who would you name the men’s sprint free award after?


In certain professional sports, major awards are named after legends of the past.

In the National Hockey League (NHL), this is the case for essentially every award, while in others, such as Major League Baseball (MLB), there are some named after former athletes (Cy Young, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron) and some simply called the “XX” of the year.

In swimming, accolades are handed out in the form of medals in international competition. But what if the sport developed annual awards that went to the best swimmer in each year by discipline?

Starting off with men’s sprint freestyle, we polled the SwimSwam audience on who they would name the award after if there ever was one, and the man who came out on top was Alexander Popov.

Popov, who received 42.6 percent of votes, is a legendary figure in the sport and certainly a justifiable selection for this award, having swept the men’s 50 and 100 free at both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games.

The Russian native also swept the two events at the 1994 and 2003 LC World Championships, and also claimed 100 free gold in 1998 while taking silver in the 50 free.

He also held the world record in the 50 free for eight years, with his 21.64 swim from the 2000 Russian Olympic Trials standing firm until it was lowered by Australia’s Eamon Sullivan (21.56) in February 2008.

In the 100 free, Popov held the world record for six years, having clocked 48.21 in 1994, a mark that wasn’t touched until Michael Klim‘s epic lead-off leg on the 400 free relay (48.18) at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Taking second in the poll was Brazilian Cesar Cielo, the current world record holder in the 50 free who won Olympic gold in the event in 2008 and followed up by winning three consecutive world titles from 2009 to 2013.

Cielo was also the world record holder in the 100 free (46.91) from 2009 to 2022, with Romanian teen David Popovici—who would’ve won this award last year if it was in existence—having lowered the mark last year in 46.86.

American Matt Biondi picked up just under nine percent of votes in the poll, as the 11-time Olympic medalist swept the 50 and 100 free at the 1988 Olympics and was also a two-time world champion in the 100 free in 1986 and 1991. Biondi’s win in the 50 free in 1988 also made him the inaugural Olympic champion in the event.

He also spent time as the world record holder in both races, having lowered the 100 free record four straight times from 1985 to 1988, bringing the record down from 49.36 to 48.42 in just three years.

Mark Spitz, the 1972 Olympic champ in the 100 free and former world record holder, and Johnny Weissmuller, the two-time Olympic champion and first swimmer to break the 1:00 barrier in the 100 free, both picked up just over seven percent of votes.

Spitz also won Olympic gold in the 200 free in 1972, and broke the world record four times in the event.

Pieter van den Hoogenband, who swept the 100 and 200 free at the Sydney Olympics and set world records in both races, closely followed Spitz and Weissmuller with just under seven percent of votes.

van den Hoogenband also won a repeat 100 free gold medal in Athens in 2004, and his victory in the event in 2000 came over Popov, who was seeking a third straight title but ended up settling for silver.

The 200 free is being regarded as a “sprint” event for the purposes of these hypothetical awards, though some may think of it as more of a “mid-distance” event.

Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Pollwhich asks: If swimming had annual awards for the best swimmer in every stroke, who would you name the women’s sprint free award after?

If swimming had annual awards for the best swimmer in every stroke, who would you name the women's sprint free award after?

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A3 Performance is an independently-owned, performance swimwear company built on a passion for swimming, athletes, and athletic performance. We encourage swimmers to swim better and faster at all ages and levels, from beginners to Olympians.  Driven by a genuine leader and devoted staff that are passionate about swimming and service, A3 Performance strives to inspire and enrich the sport of swimming with innovative and impactful products that motivate swimmers to be their very best – an A3 Performer.

The A3 Performance Poll is courtesy of A3 Performance, a SwimSwam partner.

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1 year ago

A bit off topic, but I think it’d be funny to have a “historic” swim-off… and have the best 100m freestyle men in the world swim a 100m like Johnny Weismuller did… loose cotton tank suit, no cap/googles, two-footed start, no underwaters, head above water, open turns, no fancy lane lines, in some soup of a pool (because… no chlorine back in the day). I wonder by how much they can beat his 57.4.

Reply to  FST
1 year ago

I doubt that anyone dips below 50 in those conditions. Popovici seems to be the best above water swimmer and benefits the least from turns and starts so I would give him the win, maybe 51.0?

Tracy S
1 year ago

Dawn Fraser won three consecutive 100 free Olympics gold and hold 100 free WR for 20 years until Shane Gould broke it.

Easy choice.

Tracy S
1 year ago

So weird that the biggest votes is for a swimmer that never won 100 free Olympics medal

1 year ago

I loved his swimming for years… greatest technician of all time and would be 20.5 if his generation had the same knowledge of better starts/dolphin kicking. Absolute poetry in the water.

But then Icarus comes out and you gotta admit, all Russian swims from 80’s onwards are pretty suss. Didn’t Touretski get caught with drugs at a safe in his home?

1 year ago

Voted Sjostrom because she’s obviously the best sprinter in history, but frankly I think she shouldn’t have been an option- sounds funny to name an award after an active swimmer😂
After she retires there’s no question.

1 year ago

Dawn for sure, also there was no 50m or 200m free back then she was handy at both holding the 200m WR

Reply to  Gheko
1 year ago

It’s an obvious choice. No other female swimmer has won the 100m free twice at the Olympics let alone 3 times like Dawn. De Bruijn is the only one to come close to matching this winning the 50 free twice.

As amazing as she is, Sjostrom’s WRs will inevitably fall. The past 100+ years of Olympic results in the women’s 100 free suggest we are unlikely to see Dawn’s achievement in the event equalled any time soon.

1 year ago

I wonder if Spitz would have done better if you clarified you counting the 200 as a sprint. I suspect it would have made at least some difference.

1 year ago

The Anthony Ervin Award

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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