Popov looking for missing title in Moscow
If winning the one title absent from his impressive resume was not enough to attract Alexander Popov to the world short-course championships in Moscow this week, then pressure from his home fans was.
The Canberra-based Russian is in Moscow hoping to add the world short-course freestyle sprint double to his considerable collection of achievements.
"The fans and my Russian team mates would not have understood me if I hadn't come," said Popov.
"To put it simply, I had no choice but to be here because this is the first major international swimming meet in Moscow since the 1980 Olympics."
Popov, a dominant figure in the 50-metre pool for more than a decade now, had previously competed in only one world short-course championships -- three years ago in Hong Kong when he was recovering from knee surgery.
Asked what still motivated him after winning nine Olympic and world championship medals, Popov said: "The world short-course championship medal is still the only one I have not won -- so I've tried to be ready as best as I could for the Moscow meet."
The affable Russian, who turned 30 last November, also feels he has something else to prove in Moscow.
"Swimming was once considered a sport for the young, but I want to prove that you can still be competitive at 30 or 32 or even older than that," he added.
The Russian has had to overcome a number of obstacles during his illustrious career.
In August 1996 he was stabbed in the abdomen by a melon-seller in a Moscow street just two weeks after winning a unique Olympic freestyle sprint double for the second time at the Atlanta Games.
On Thursday, Popov took the first step towards completing his medal collection by reaching the Friday final of the 50 metres freestyle with a time of 21.67 seconds -- 0.2 seconds slower than fastest qualifier Jose Meolans of Argentina.
Popov's long-time coach Gennady Touretski believes his pupil has lost none of the confidence in his own abilities.
"The most important thing for Alex is that he still feels like he has enough strength and speed to win races, no matter what anybody else says," said Touretski.
"That's the key, the rest is down to how hard he trains."
Popov also said he supported the fight against doping and was in favour of the introduction of blood testing at these championships.
"I fully support these measures both as a member of the IOC's Athletes Commission, as well as being an athlete myself," Popov said.
"Introducing blood as well as urine testing was the right thing to do and the timing was good because we needed it."
The swimmer also said that being an IOC member had helped him to refine his training.
"The IOC's work doesn't interfere with my training -- if anything it helps me to make better use of my time."
Both Popov and Touretski said they had not yet made plans to return to Russia, even though the swimmer was given a three-room apartment last year by the city council in Moscow's affluent southwest district.
"I don't think we can find better conditions for training than those we have in Canberra at present," said Touretski.
"I'm staying in Australia for at least the next two-and-a-half years in order to train for the Athens Olympics," Popov said, adding he could not predict how long his career might last.
"Athens is in my plans, but we'll see one year at a time."