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Swimming - Athletes
Alex Popov
Photo© Dmitry Solntsev
Alexander Popov

Half-asleep, I'm desperately trying to figure out the fast French sounds coming out of the phone. A photo journalist was looking for Alexander Popov who is deservingly considered almost the only swimmer who is able rival 5-time Olympic champion Matt Biondi and World record holder Tom Jager at the most prestigiuos events - 50m and 100m free style - in Barselona Games.

The French had ordered roundtrip tickets for the Paris – Moscow route and I, still half-asleep, agreed to help and played a role of the magic wand, riding the dark blue «Reno», rented at Sheremetevo.

Our interests coincided at Krugloe, the main training camp for the swimmer. While my new friend Michel was setting up the lights on the boards, I took out the records and waited for Popov who was finishing the last lap.

- Sasha, would you mind if we bother you?

- Yes, I would, but it's against my rules to refuse the reporters even though I prefer talking to them after the competition.

- In this case, we won't talk about the Olympics. I know that right after the Games, a spritn superfinal will be held in Paris and you already agreed to participate.

-   If the French won't let us down with visas as it often happens, then Gena Prigoda and I will go there straight from Barselona along with other competitiors – Biondi, Jagger, and European champion Stefan Caron.

- And if they let you down?

- In theory, those who would cause any inveted swimmers to miss the event will have to pay damages since big money were invested into advertising. Moreover, the organizers think that fans will significantly lose interests if, for example, Biondi won't swim in the event.

- Or you?

- Or me, but I'm ready to swim. By the way, I defeated Biondi several times, both at 100 and 50.

- How would you explain you relatively unsuccesfull fourth place at the World Cup?

- The entire training period was messed up. Reportes also contribued to that. We were preparing in Italy, but instead of practices, I had to answer the question. That's why I'm cold towards the reporters – too much energy is spent for talking. And all of it is about one subject – Biondi, Biondi, Biondi… Not even mentioning that overall, I don't like to talk about the competitions before they start. I even try to forbid myself to think about it.

- What do you think about yourself?

- It's better to ask my coach.

- By the way, it was the coach who allowed the photoshoot. His reason was that advertising in the French magazine won't hurt.

- The coach is always right.

- Are you convinced in it or…?

- That's the truth. You can be convinced in anything, but inside.

- No wonder you always get everything right, like at the SNG championship where you unexpectedly came to sort of warm up on the backstroke and won the distance swimming in the outside lane, not the leaders' one. Is that an ability or work?

- Probably both. And I just like to swim and win, even though sometimes everything gets to me like hell.

- So much that you could quit?

- Those extremes are bad for my health. It takes as much time to climb the mountain as to go down. I'm not going to go down yet.

- Especially since it's the sprint distances that become interesting commercially more and more. I mean the motorcycle you've got in Cannes for the European record.

- I would've gotten a Nissan if I broke the World record at 100.

- But you didn't

- The rain interfered. Caron and I froze so much while waiting to start, it wasn't time for the records. By the way, the motorcycle staid in France. What was I supposed to do, ride it here?

- Michel was finishing the sixth roll of film. Popov was posing by the pool, the forest, the hotel, the construction blocks nearby. When the time was over, the reporters eye got bright with the another idea, «Mr. Popov, do you have Biondi's picture with you?»

2-meter tall European champion gave him the hannibalic look, «No, you know, I'm more interested in girls».





© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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