Top 5 Boys’ Storylines of 2022 World Junior Champs: Popovici Leads the Pack

2022 FINA WORLD JUNIOR SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

David Popovici could steal the spotlight again at the 2022 World Junior Swimming Championships, but there are still plenty of intriguing storylines if there’s not another world record in the cards this week for the Romanian superstar. 

At the tail end of a historically busy summer, traditional powerhouses such as the United States, Australia, China, Great Britain, Canada, Ukraine, Germany, the Netherlands, and Lithuania opted to rest or prioritize Junior Pan Pacs (which only just ended on Saturday). Also absent is Russia, the original hosts of the meet who had that duty and their right to participate stripped after their invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Belarus, a country that is assisting Russia in its war in Ukraine, has also been barred from competition.

Those countries combined to occupy four of the top five spots on the medals table at the last edition of the World Junior Championships. Absent nations also combined for 95 out of 126 total medals won in 2019, including 33 out of 42 gold medals.

That means the door is wide open for countries to bring home record medal hauls if they come prepared starting Tuesday. 

All eyes on Popovici in his last junior meet

It seems like a summer stacked with major international meets should have taken a physical toll on Popovici by now, but the 17-year-old “skinny legend” says he’s continuing to set personal-best marks in training. 

After scratching the 400 freestyle final at the recent European Championships to begin preparation for World Juniors, Popovici is focusing his energy on just the 100 and 200 free this week. At Euros, he blazed a 46.86 in the 100 free to become the youngest world record holder since Michael Phelps before adding a world junior record in the 200 free, his 1:42.97 marking the fastest time in a textile suit

Popovici, who turns 18 next month, said his calm and confident approach to the race was the difference in his record-setting swims earlier this month. At June’s World Championships, his fastest 100 free time came in the semifinals, but he arrived mentally prepared for the final in Rome.  

“What I did different was relax,” Popovici explained. “The work was done, all that I ever had to do sort of channeled me for this exact moment in time, so I was confident in myself. I was in a good state of zen and relaxed, and I think that’s what helped me a lot.”

With Popovici appearing even more relaxed this week, records could keep falling in Lima, Peru. 

“It’s going to be fun,” Popovici said. “In terms of how I’m feeling, I’m really relaxed.” 

“I don’t have any expectations,” he added. “To be honest, I didn’t really have many expectations for Rome. We just went into the meet going with the flow and it treated us well. That’s kind of the same philosophy for this one. Yesterday in training, even though my back was hurting and I wasn’t feeling too well — not the case now because I recovered — I had a very good training and some very, very good best times in training. I went to my coach and said, ‘I can’t break the world record again, it’s too tiring getting through the whole process.’ It’s not an objective we have or a goal we have for this meet to shock the world of swimming again, but if it happens, it will happen. That’s the philosophy we went with in Rome and it works for us.”

Masiuk, Coetze set for long-awaited backstroke duels

In what figures to be the first of many battles to come, Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk (24.48/52.58/1:56.62) and South Africa’s Pieter Coetze (24.74/53.62/1:56.77) are slated for showdowns in the 50, 100, and 200 backstroke. 

Masiuk, 17, owns the top-seeded entry time in all three events. However, the 18-year-old Coetze could prevent a sweep coming off a successful Commonwealth Games, where he earned gold in the 100, silver in the 50, and bronze in the 200 back. COVID-19 kept Coetze out of Worlds, where Masiuk claimed his first major international medal, a bronze in the 50 back. 

At Euros, Masiuk missed the podium in the 100 back final and failed to advance out of the 50 back heats behind a pair of Polish teammates (Tomasz Polewka and Kacper Stokowski), so the NC State commit should be hungry to bounce back here. 

Can Ribeiro break his first world junior record?

Portugal is only sending one swimmer to World Juniors, but he could make a lot of noise with a little time drop this week. Diogo Matos Ribeiro only needs to find another .02 seconds to best Russian swimmer Andrei Minakov’s world junior record time of 23.05. No Portuguese swimmers currently hold world junior records.  

The 17-year-old sprint specialist is the top seed in the 50 and 100 butterfly fresh off an impressive performance at Euros earlier this month. Ribeiro lowered his 50 fly national record three times, bringing his personal best down to 23.07 in the final with a third-place finish. The bronze medal marked Portugal’s third-ever swimming medal at Euros. 

Ribeiro is also entered in the 50 free and 100 free. He’s currently ranked 13th in the world in the 50 fly, 22nd in the 100 fly, and 40th in the 100 free. 

Steverink seeks first South American gold since 2017

Brazil’s Stephan Steverink is the top seed in the 400 IM thanks to a 4:16.44 from April’s Brazil Trophy, which ranks 34th in the world. The 18-year-old is trying to become the first world junior champion from South America since Argentina’s Delfina Pignatiello

In order to top the podium, he’ll have to fend off the formidable Japanese duo of 16-year-old Riku Yamaguchi and 15-year-old Riki Abe, who just went 4:17.96 for a bronze medal at Junior Pan Pacs on Friday.

At Worlds, Steverink made his major international debut with a 16th-place finish in the 400 IM. 

Peru has been good to Steverink in the past as he won five medals at the South American Youth Swimming Championships in late 2021. He’ll also be racing the 400, 800, and 1500 free. 

Poland poised for record medal haul

Poland didn’t win any medals at the last World Juniors in 2019, but that’s sure to change this year. Polish swimmers boast top times in six individual events on the entry lists, more than any other nation this year. 

After racking up 13 medals across the first three editions of World Juniors, Poland has failed to collect more than two at a meet for the past decade. But Masiuk and other young swimmers are leading a resurgence. Krzysztof Chmielewski is the top seed in the 200 fly, where he is ranked 12th in the world and placed ninth in Budapest. His twin brother, Michal, is ranked 34th in the world in the 200 fly. On the girls side, Karolina Piechowicz is the top seed in both the 50 and 100 breast. 

Other countries poised for record medal hauls include Turkey and Romania. Turkey has four all-time medals at World Juniors while Romania has five. Both nations could easily match those totals this week.

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Swimmka
3 months ago

Do not forget about the Hungarian team for the medal hunting – especially the girls. They are holding 5 best seeding times, plus very powerful IM swimmers plus their relays. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get to the top this time.

Troyy
3 months ago

Anyone know if FINA also charges hosts ridiculous fees for hosting junior worlds?

Mojo
Reply to  Troyy
3 months ago

Yes, they do.

Jamesabc
3 months ago

Under or over: 80% of comments about the entirety of this meet will be about whether Skinny Legend breaks another WR.

Peaty55Paris
Reply to  Jamesabc
3 months ago

2 Free??

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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