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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Popov Finally Wins Gold in 400 Relay

APAlexander Popov, right, and his 4x100 meter relay team posing with their gold medals after winning in Barcelona on Sunday.
BARCELONA, Spain -- Four-time Olympic champion Alexander Popov -- considered by some the fastest man in swimming -- had an 11-year-old dream fulfilled when Russia won the 400-meter freestyle relay at the World Championships.

It was Popov's first medal at a world championships or Olympics since 1998.

"It's a nice sort of forgotten feeling," the 31-year-old Russian star said Sunday. "I've never been on top of the podium for the 400 freestyle. We've always been second or third ... so it's a double pleasure."

Popov is one of the all-time greats of Russian swimming, having won four Olympic golds. He still holds the 50-meter world record of 21.64 seconds set in 2000. Yet somehow the 400 relay gold seemed always to slip away from him.

"I've been dreaming about this for 11 or 12 years, more or less since 1992," said Popov, who has been on the relay team for more than 10 years.

Coincidentally, the dream came true in Barcelona, where he won his first two Olympic golds in 1992 in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle.

"Barcelona will always be a special city in my life," he said.

Popov won the same two medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. But he failed to capture gold in Sydney in 2000.

The Russian side took its eighth gold medal of the championships in 3 minutes, 14.06 seconds, with Popov swimming the anchor leg. The United States got the silver in 3:14.80, while France got the bronze in 3:15.66.

Popov highlighted the good feeling in the team as being one of the reasons for the success. "And our coach's support has been just great, they gave us the good word of support, the jokes they make and how they make us laugh," he said. "It all worked positively for the final result so today it all came together and we're all very happy."

Popov began swimming at age 8 after overcoming a fear of water. He started out as a backstroke specialist and switched to freestyle upon lining up with renowned coach Gennadi Touretski. He currently trains at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Australia's Ian Thorpe became the most prolific gold medalist in the history of the world championships when he hoisted his tally to nine with a third successive victory in the 400 meters freestyle.

The Australian, who had shared the record aggregate of eight golds with East German Kornelia Ender, achieved the two historic feats in a single swim that also fittingly brought him the first gold medal in the Palau Sant Jordi pool.

(AP, Reuters)