On This Day 15 Years Ago: Alex Popov’s Top Speed – 21.64sec Snippet From A Masterclass

Sprint Tsar Alexander Popov - by Patrick B. Kraemer

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Alex Popov’s top speed, a 21.64 world record that stood for 10 years as the textile best over 50m freestyle. The time-trial of a moment was a swift snippet in the Sprint Tsar’s masterclass of a career

Want to read more? Our Basic subscription package allows you to access
to all articles barring specific content for Premium and Business
members. Select which service best suits you. Thank you for your
support of independent journalism and quality coverage of world-class swimming.

Log In Register

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Alex Popov’s top speed, a 21.64 world record that stood for 10 years as the textile best over 50m freestyle. The time-trial of a moment was a swift snippet in the Sprint Tsar’s masterclass of a career



I always enjoy reading articles about the best sprinter in history. He had such a beautiful technique, it was a joy to watch. A true idol. On a side note, how is his son doing. Where is he at, times wise, at the moment?

Craig Lord

ITR: Vladimir clocked 23.19 and 51.75 at Russian nationals this year on freestyle and 25.53 in the 50 ‘fly.


The Silent Assassin reigned supreme in his time.Speedos only thank-you!Great article to remind us of a great swimmer,athlete and now ambassador!


After his 2 golds in 2003 I had no doubts he would definitely make the Olympic final in 2004 in both sprints. It was not meant to be. What a pity. Great Champion. Great article. Thanks Craig, well done mate ;).


His coach got caught out with a quantity of steroids in his house safe, after police investigated a house burglary.

Clive Rushton

Love the “*”

Craig Lord

Peter, we must note the fuller story: In 2001, thieves stole a small safe from his house and when the Australian police recovered it, they found tablets of the banned steroid stanozolol next to the safe in a pond. Touretski, who claimed that the tablets were prescription medication being taken by his wife, was charged with possession of an illegal drug and suspended from coaching starting from 10 April 2001. The charges were later dropped and he was reinstated at the AIS on 14 September 2001. The grounds are explained in this BBC report from the time: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/other_sports/1543748.stm


Swimming dictionary (page 61)

– library: a place where you can find books and a lot of information
– swimming library: a place where you can find books and a lot of information about swimming
– walking swimming library: Craig Lord



Craig, thank you for clearing up the issue that Peter brought up. Popov was ahead of his time stroke wise, plain and simple. When Steve Holland broke the world record in the 1500 nobody but nobody that I can remember brought up any PED issues. All that happened was that the US swimmers realized that it was possible for someone to swim that fast, and then they did.

Now, if you want to discuss why Popov has remained silent in light of FINA rightfully being under attack, that is another story, and ripe for discussion.

Clive Rushton

TommyL: very good.

Craig Lord

🙂 Thanks for the kind comments, TommyL


Popov (along with Kieren Perkins) was the first swimmer whose international career I followed from the start.

There’s one word I like to describe Popov with: imperial.

I would want to use the word “imperious” but I learned it has negative connotation.

Popov was imperviously imperial.


schoeman also clocked 21.6 at the 2005 world champs (21.69 – ED)

Viva la Bang

Michael Klim 48.18 broke Popov’s 100m free WR 48.21 on the famous Sydney relay lead off before VHB broke it again in the 100m free semis.

So Cal Swimmer

I agree with aswimfan’s usage of the word, “Imperial”. Popov carried himself with such class, style and yes, elegance. There will probably never be another like him again.


Popov was a great swimmer, no doubt. He had the rare talent only the best possess: the ability to get it done when it matters. But I’m not a fan due to his obnoxious personality. His trash talking could get especially nasty. Not to mention his overall conceit. And getting stabbed in a street fight? What is that? 2nd on my swimming bad guy list behind Cavic.


Oh, one more thing on the plus side: AP did more endurance training than the typical sprinter does. Many don’t know that.

Craig Lord

easyspeed,in Alex Popov’s defence, I have to say that on the very many occasions I met him, interviewed him in mixed zones, hotel lobbies, corridors, press conferences, I never thought of him as having an obnoxious personality. He was always courteous, polite, bright and well-read. To this day, he stops to say hello and have a chat if you bump into him at events (and even in the middle of London far from the world of swimming). He provided good insight and he spoke kindly of many of his challengers down the years. I would not have associated him with the word ‘nasty’, not at all. The fight: he was defending those he was with who came in for some abuse – and was stabbed. All the reports from the time had him down as a victim not a man looking for a street fight. The downside for me is that he has allowed himself to be subsumed in the world of sports politics and is therefore no longer free (chooses not to be free/feels unable to follow that path) to speak on issues when his voice could be used in a very positive way. That makes him far less effective as a blazer than he was as a swimmer. That’s a pity.
p.s. there was a glint of chippy edge to him when he was challenged – in common with many champions, steely competitiveness part of the job description 🙂


We all remember him for his stroke, but this guy could kick a 50 in 27”. Kicking is overlooked but it counts a lot in swimming – perhaps it makes a difference more than a beautiful stroke does (same applies to Thorpe in my opinion). Speaking of which, he probably lost a medal in the 50 free final in Sidney because he chose to dolphin kick the last few meters (a bizarre idea credited to coach Gennadi Touretsky, also applied by M. Klim if I am not mistaken).

Clive Rushton

Luigi: Michael Klim broke the world 100 free record by dolphin kicking the last 15 meters of the lead-off leg of the 400 free relay. It wasn’t a bad idea. Bizarre? I don’t think so.


Are you sure he did it in the 400 free relay, Clive? I know he did it in the 100 free final, and it didn’t go well. And have Klim, Popov or anybody else kept using this technique after 2000? I can’t name an elite freestyler outside of these two who has used it in the last 3 Olympics.

Craig Lord

Luigi, you get a glimpse of him doing it here:


To be honest I can’t tell from this video, but I take your word for it

Craig Lord

The trick, Luigi, is to watch the movement of both swimmers, USA and AUS, generally, not focussing on one of them … and your mind’s eye will show you the difference, one undulating, one not.


Skugi. Sorry if I do not write well, but my English is not very good. In Montreal Roland hiso was 21.69 sec with textile but full body suit. I am fan of Popov to the extent that my son called Alexandre. He was ahead of his time with impeccable style.


Mr. Lord,

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I don’t know AP personally. But I’ll take your word for it that he is a nice guy in the flesh.

I take issue with some of his comments in the media. For example, I remember him calling Gary Hall Jr. a “loser” and the “son of a loser.” Can’t remember the exact quote. Think that goes beyond “chippy edge.” Some good natured trash talking is ok, but that crosses a line IMO. Hall Jr. obviously looks up to his dad so that was a pretty low blow.

Anyway that’s my feedback, not just to you but other writers: avoid idealizing too much and have a more rounded presentation (tho you did have the line at the end re: being a FINA lap dog). Otherwise, good summary of Popov’s career.


I think some comments from Popov that could be misconstrued as being “arrogant”/”nasty” were started/prompted by the media who wanted to get his reactions towards the challenge from Hall Jr. in Atlanta. I remember there were some interesting comments by both swimmers back then.
And Popov being from Russia was not as media polished back then.


And we know that Hall Jr. never shied away from trying to provoke his rivals.


Well.. I prefer guys like Popov who really say what they think or want (He was pretty vocal about that he would crash any guy who challenged him at any race) than there PR-made swimmers we have (Always happy, smiling, and alway have a previously prepared answer for everything)

People find awesome when Le Bron says he is the best, but if Phelps says the same it would not be ok?

If any athlete gets pissed off because he lost is Ok, but if a swimmer gets pissed is wrong?

Swimmers are athletes and real people, they should behave as such.

People should stop wanting athletes to be role models on all aspects. Many people comment on the internet that they want their sons to be like Phelps, Lotche, etc. and forget that they should be the one teaching their kids how to behave.


One more quick thing about Popov: he was slow to embrace the tech/body suits. Said, “I prefer to swim in my own skin.” If I remember correctly, he tried it, didn’t do well, then made the switch.


I actually liked that attempt to reject the suits, which I disliked from day 1

Craig Lord

Me, too, easy speed 🙂 … the stuff put down as ‘nasty’ for both Popov and Hall Jr was show stuff with an edge of the moment, some of that useful to the swimmers themselves, some probably not. I ignored most of it; it all paled when held up against their talents in the water 🙂 Beyond that, my personal take on both of them was that I liked them and found them both bright, well-educated and engaging. Long-term, it is those skills, not what the pool delivered (a sealed vault), that will be interesting to watch in the hope they play out well in life.


Thank you for this brilliant article on the The Tsar. He has definitely made a name for himself in and out of the water. Truly a class act. Where did you find the results for Vladimir’s performances at Russian Nationals? Is he competing at the junior or senior division? It’ll be exciting to see his progression over the next years. I’m hopeful that we’ll see another Popov on the Olympic podium.

Craig Lord

Thanks Stephanie. Vladimir has swum in both open and junior events. Russian competition results are posted at http://www.russwimming.ru – the Russian fed website – during events (and we get them via other sources, too)

Leave a comment

Post a comment with your SwimVortex Account. Don't have a SwimVortex Account, Sign Up?

(*) Fields are required!