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Swimming Athlete – Alexander Popov
When swimming, Alexander Popov looks so at ease that it is hard to imagine his natural habitat is not water.
His style, and above all, his unerring ability, have given the Russian sprinter unprecedented results in the shape of the Olympic “double-double” in the 50 metres and 100m.
He even had his sights on a rare treble at Sydney 2000 but had to settle for silver in the 100m freestyle behind Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, while he was a distant sixth in the 50m race.
Adding a third 100m world gold to his collection and reclaiming his world 50m gold at Barcelona 2003, Popov also captured his first gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
Born in 1971 close to the Ural mountains, Popov got his first taste of the water in Volgograd, the city where his parents both worked.
His swimming exploits began in the backstroke event, but with the Soviet Union looking to put an end to American domination in the freestyle sprints, Popov was offered the chance to train with reputed coach Gennadi Touretski.
Popov also won two silver medals in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley under the banner of the Community of Independent States in 1992.
An interesting Olympic anecdote: his results at Atlanta 1996 would turn out to be exactly the same as those achieved in the previous Olympiad.
However Popov was attacked while out and about in Moscow with his wife, swimmer Darya Chmeliova, and some friends, and spent next two weeks in hospital, losing seven kilos.
A year later, the multiple world and European champion retained his European 100m title and also retained his 100m world title in 1998.
After becoming a father he lost all four of his European titles to the new kid on the block, van den Hoogenband, during the 1999 championships in Istanbul, and the Dutchman deprived him in Sydney as well despite a new 50m world record just months prior to the Games.
His haul of more than 40 medals (Olympics, Worlds and Europeans) may have been even greater if he had not picked up an infection while attending an IOC meeting to determine the host city for the 2008 Summer Games, and consequently finished well out of the running at the 2001 World Championships.
After 10 years of training in Australia, he decided on a move to Switzerland in January 2003 in order to improve his preparations for Athens 2004 and also be better positioned to attend to his business interests.
His new European base also puts him closer to IOC headquarters in Lausanne.