Olympics: Alexander Popov, the freestyle king
Russian swimming legend Alexander Popov
Four Olympic gold medals, six world championship gold medals - all in freestyle events - cemented his place in the pantheon of all-time greats
By KT Report
Published: Sun 24 Jul 2016, 7:02 PM
Last updated: Mon 25 Jul 2016, 1:01 AM
No swimmer has ever come close to matching the freestyle swimming achievements of Russian legend Alexander Popov. It's obviously no surprise that the Lesnoy-born swimmer is regarded as one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.
For a man who was afraid of water in his childhood days, he became the only swimmer -male or female - to win four individual freestyle golds. It was his father who took him to a swimming school and his life changed once and for all.
Once he got the taste of swimming, Popov realised that he was born with a talent few possess. Soon he tried his hand at the backstroke events. But Gennadi Touretski, Russia's legendary swimming coach, asked him to concentrate on freestyle. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Four Olympic gold medals, six world championship gold medals - all in freestyle events - cemented his place in the pantheon of all-time greats.
Popov's first Olympics came in the 1992 Barcelona Games. He went to the Catalan capital as the overwhelming favourite in the 50m and 100m freestyle events. He didn't disappoint his fans back home, winning both races to clinch two gold medals. He also won two silver medals in the relay events in Barcelona.
Four years later at the Centenary Olympic Games in Atlanta, Popov was in top form once again as he defended his 50m and 100m titles. He became the first man after Johnny Weissmuller to achieve the rare feat. After defending his titles, Touretski presented the gold medal to Touretski.
Popov was stabbed in an attack a month after his Atlanta heroics. The swimming superstar needed an emergency surgery and three months to completely recover from the grave injuries.
Remarkably, a year later in 1997, he defended his 50m and 100m freestyle titles. He returned to Barcelona for the 2003 World Championship and won the 50m and 100m freestyle races again and admitted later that the city held a special place in his heart.
"This was where it all began for me in 1992," he said.