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


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

At the 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 host the Junior Pan Pacs (who just started on Saturday 27th). Also absent is Russia, the meeting’s original host, which was stripped of that duty and the right to attend following its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Belarus, a country that supports Russia in its war in Ukraine, was also excluded from the competition.

These countries together occupied four of the top five places in the medal table at the last edition of the World Junior Championships. Absent nations have also won 95 of 126 overall medals won in 2019, including 33 of 42 gold medals.

That means the door is wide open for countries to bring home record medal wins if they are prepared from Tuesday.

All eyes on Popovici at his last juniors meeting

It seems like a summer of big international encounters has taken a physical toll on Popovici by now, but the 17-year-old has “Thin Legend” says he continues to set personal bests in training.

After scraping the 400 freestyle final at the last European Championships to start his preparation for the World Juniors, Popovici is focusing his energies on just the 100 and 200 freestyle this week. At Euro, he scored 49.86 in the 100 for free youngest world record holder since Michael Phelps before setting a junior world record in the 200m free with a time of 1:42.97 the fastest time in a textile suit.

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

“What I did differently was relax,” Popovici explained. “The work was done, everything I ever had to do somehow channeled me into that very moment, so I felt confident in myself. I was in a good zen state and relaxed and I think that helped me a lot.”

With Popovici appearing even more relaxed this week, records in Lima, Peru could fall further.

“It’s going to be fun,” Popovici said. “I feel really relaxed about it.”

“I have no expectations,” he added. “To be honest, I didn’t really have many expectations of Rome. We just went with the flow into the meeting and it treated us well. That’s kind of the same philosophy for this one. Yesterday in practice, although my back hurt and I wasn’t feeling too well – not anymore because I’d recovered – I had a very good workout and some very, very good practice bests. I went to my coach and said, ‘I can’t break the world record again, it’s too hard to go through the whole process.’ It’s not a goal we have for this gathering to shock the swimming world again, but when it happens, it will happen. That’s the philosophy we followed in Rome and it works for us.”

Masiuk, Coetze prepared for long-awaited back duels

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

Masiuk, 17, has the top seeded start time in all three events. However, the 18-year-old Coetze was able to avoid a win in successful Commonwealth Games, where he earned Gold in the 100th, silver in the 50 and bronze in the 200 back. COVID-19 kept Coetze away from World Championships, where Masiuk won his first major international medal, a bronze in the 50’s backstroke.

At the Euros, Masiuk missed the podium in the 100 back final and failed to get out of the 50 back heats behind two Polish teammates (Tomasz Polewka and Kapper Stokowski), so the NC state commit should be hungry to come back here.

Can Ribeiro break his first junior world record?

Portugal are only sending one swimmer to the World Juniors but he could make a lot of noise this week with a small loss of time. Diogo Matos Ribeiro only has 0.02 seconds to find the best Russian swimmer Andrei MinakovJunior world record time from 23.05. No Portuguese swimmer currently holds junior world records.

The 17-year-old sprint specialist is the front-runner in the 50s and 100s butterfly, having put in an impressive performance at the Euros earlier this month. Ribeiro lowered his national record of 50 flights three times and clocked his personal best 23.07 in the final with a third place. The bronze medal marked Portugal’s third swimming medal at Euros.

Ribeiro is also entered in the 50 free and 100 free. He is currently ranked 13th in the world on the 50 Fly, 22nd on the 100 Fly and 40th on the 100 Free.

Steverink is prospecting for the first South American gold since 2017

of Brazil Stefan Steverink is the top seed in the 400 IM thanks to a 4:16.44 from the Brazil Trophy in April that ranks 34th in the world. The 18-year-old is aiming to become the first junior world champion from South America since Argentina Dolphina Pignatello.

To climb to the top of the podium he will have to fend off the 16-year-old’s impressive Japanese duo Riku Yamaguchi and 15 years old Ricky Abewho went just 4:17.96 for a bronze medal in Friday’s Junior Pan Pacs.

At the 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 will also drive the 400, 800 and 1500 for free.

Poland is about to win a record medal

Poland didn’t win any medals at the last World Juniors in 2019, but that’s sure to change this year. Polish swimmers have best times in six individual competitions, more than any other nation this year.

After 13 medals in the first three editions of the World Juniors, Poland has not collected more than two at one meeting in the last decade. But Masiuk and other young swimmers are leading a resurgence. Krzysztof Chmielewski is the top seed in the 200 Fly, where he ranks 12th in the world and ninth in Budapest. His twin brother Michal is ranked 34th in the world in the 200m fly. On the girls side Karolina Piechowicz is the front runner in both the 50s and 100s chest.

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

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