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Teen freak eyeing ‘mouth-watering’ Chalmers showdown

It’s the race that pits the short course world record holder against the long course world record holder, and it’s set to be the highlight of this week’s World Short Course Championships in Melbourne.

Australia’s Kyle Chalmers will go head-to-head with 18-year-old Romanian sensation David Popovici in the men’s 100 meters freestyle, and already the mind games have begun.

Popovici, who won gold in both the 100m and 200m at the long course world titles in June, is already claiming underdog status, declaring the short course format doesn’t suit him.

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Chalmers, on the other hand, is the short course world record holder.

“I don’t think it’s a bluff to say that I don’t like swimming short course events; I am sort of built for long course competition,” Popovici said.

“The turns and starts are more intense in short course, so this is a great opportunity to gather information and to gain experience and to be the best version that I can be.

“Sure, there is a rivalry between me and Kyle, but I think the rivalry is only in long course,” he added.

The FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will be broadcast exclusively live and free on Nine and 9Now from December 13-18.

“Kyle holds the world record in short course events and I am the world record holder in long course events. So, perhaps in a few years, this rivalry will be real. My goal is to qualify for the final, and as we all know , once you have a lane, you have a chance.”

Chalmers has been in good form in recent months, taking gold at World Cup meets in Germany, Canada and the United States.

“I know Kyle is looking forward to it, so that makes me look forward to it,” Australian head coach Rohan Taylor told Wide World of Sports.

“Kyle is a great racer and loves racing, he’s mouth-watering to be able to sit and watch that.

“David has shown his wares in the long-course format, this is his chance to come up against Kyle in the short-course. It’s definitely one I’m looking forward to.”

Chalmers is six years older than Popovici, having won an Olympic gold medal (Rio) and silver medal (Tokyo) over this distance.

It’s shaping as one of swimming’s great rivalries in the years to come, although the toll of injuries on his body mean Chalmers is unlikely to be around when Brisbane hosts the 2032 Olympics.

But Popovici’s rise, and his competition with Chalmers, could see the Romanian become something of a household name in Australia, in much the same way that the likes of Pieter van den Hoogenband and Gary Hall did in the lead up to the Sydney games in 2000.

“I don’t think they’re going to need to do anything to build that rivalry, I think everyone else will do it for them,” Taylor observed.

“That’s fine. They can play it the way they want. I don’t know David, but I have no doubt that once he gets on the blocks he’s going to be wanting to win, that’s what makes the elite athletes.”

The heats of the men’s 100m freestyle are scheduled for Wednesday morning, with the semi finals on Wednesday night and the final on Thursday night, and Taylor says Chalmers is raring to go.

“He looks great, he’s done some World Cup meets and raced extremely well there, he’s really looking forward to it,” he said.

“He’s in a good place, just like the rest of the team.”

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Nine commentator Ian Thorpe says Chalmers has his work cut out.

“I put David as the favorite at the moment,” Thorpe said.

“Because he is a young swimmer, he can back up from meet to meet. He’ll be really tight.

“[Kyle’s] up against probably the most exciting up-and-coming swimmer in the world.”

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