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Personality: Alexandre Popov

Licensed To Thrill


Karin Helmstaedt

Alexandre Popov displayed some typical Russian brevity upon his arrival in Perth when asked his thoughts on the new generation of American sprinters that hope to challenge him during the championships.

"Bring them," he said quietly, of the likes of Neil Walker, Scott Tucker, and Bill Pilczuk, emphasizing his faintly Cold War determination to keep the Americans in check as long as he remains in the discipline.

The press conference, held by Popov's sponsor Omega on January 6 at the Challenge Stadium Media Centre, went all out with kitschy commercialism, complete with a James Bond video promoting the latest Bond film. Popov also posed with a cardboard cutout of Agent 007 wearing the Seamaster watch, the same watch sported by the champion himself.

As always, Australian media were eager to have some show of allegiance from the 26-year-old Russian, a point which makes him visibly uncomfortable. An Australian resident since 1993, Popov admitted that Australia was starting to feel like home and that there is always the possibility he could adopt Australian citizenship in the future, but that at the moment it made no sense for him. He prefers to swim and be known as a Russian.

The quadruple Olympic champion and defending world champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle refused to make any predictions about his performances, bantering with journalists, saying a world record was always possible but never a sure thing, "maybe a 50/50 chance, maybe 99/1." He did say that he was in better shape than he had been in Sevilla and was unconcerned about how little racing he put in through 1997. "If the head is ready, the body will follow," he said.

Just concentrating on what I have to do
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

And as for any rivalry with his training mate Michael Klim, he passed that off as wishful thinking of the press. "You guys always want to make a battle between us, but I don't want to do that. Michael's a good guy and he's developing and maturing. It's good to see that guys from the younger generation are able to do the same things I did a few years ago. I'm not nervous that I'll be racing him. We've both trained and prepared for this and now's our chance to see which one did it better."

He chuckled as he recounted, "We have a laugh sometimes in our squad because Michael Klim is number two in the world in the 100 freestyle. Gennadi (Touretski) says, the Americans can race Michael, and if they beat him, then they can race me. If they don't, they can just go back and train."

Asked what he thought about the German team's tribulations in Perth with their Team Chef Winfried Leopold, Popov could only stare blankly, admitting sheepishly, as would many athletes at this level, that he hadn't been following the news for some time. "Could somebody tell me what's going on?" he asked. In answer to questions about his Russian teammates who tested positive for drugs in October, he said he was unaffected by the announcement. "I'm just concentrating on what I have to do. I wasn't there so I don't know what happened," he said.

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