Known by a variety of nicknames – “Sasha,” “The Russian Rocket,” “Ice Man,” and “Big Dog” – Aleksandr Popov is considered by many as the greatest sprint freestyle swimmer ever. Popov took up swimming at the age of eight and, at that time, he was afraid of water, but his father insisted on him taking swimming lessons. Popov started out as a backstroke swimmer and switched to freestyle only in 1990. A year later, Popov competed at his first international tournament, the 1991 European Championships, and established himself as the world’s top freestyle sprinter by winning the 100 freestyle and helping the Soviet team win both the 4x100 freestyle relay and medley relay titles. Nearly unbeatable in the 1990s, Popov won gold medals in the 50 and 100 sprint events at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and added silver in both the 4x100 freestyle relay and medley relay at those Olympics. His comeback to world-class swimming after the Atlanta Olympics was the stuff of legend. During an altercation on a Moscow street with an Azeri watermelon vendor, he was stabbed in the abdomen, with the knife grazing his lung and an artery to his kidney. He required emergency surgery and spent three months in rehabilitation. Popov competed at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, but was touched out in the 100 by Pieter van den Hoogenband, winning a silver medal. Popov also competed in 2004, without winning a medal, and retired shortly after the Athens Olympic Games, where he was the Russian flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony.
At the World Championships Popov won the 50 free in 1994 and 2003, and the 100 free in 1994, 1998, and 2003. His World Championship record saw him win gold six times, silver four times, and bronze once between 1994 and 2003. At the European Championships, after his three 1991 titles, Popov went on to win 21 gold and 26 totals medals, competing at that meet through 2004, and ending with gold in the 2004 50 metre freestyle. During his career Popov set one world record at both of the two sprint distances: 48.21 in the 100 free in 1994, which stood for six years, and 21.64 in the 50 free in 2000, which stood for eight years. Popov was elected as the European Swimmer of the Year in 1994 and 2003 and the Russian Athlete of the Year and European Sports Press Union Athlete of the Year in 1996.
Popov was elected as a full member of the IOC in December 1999. He also represented the athletes on the IOC Sport for All Commission and was elected as one of seven athletes to the IOC Athletes’ Commission by the athletes participating in the 1996 Olympics. He was re-elected to the Athletes’ Commission at the 2000 Olympics and is now the IOC Athletes’ Commission’s Honorary Secretary. Popov has been named to the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2016 Olympics. Popov is an advisor to the Russian president in sports matters and a member of the Executive Committee of the Russian National Olympic Committee. Since 2004, Popov has been vice-president of the Russian Swimming Federation.
Personal Best: 50 m freestyle – 21.64 (2000); 100 m freestyle – 48.21 (1994).