Sept. 19, 2008
By Danielle Marshall
Athletic Media Relations
Erin Popovich ('07), 23, has just won four gold medals and two silver medals in six events at the National Aquatics Center, better known as the Water Cube, in Beijing for the 2008 Paralympics. People have compared her to U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who won a record-breaking eight medals earlier this summer in the same venue.
"That's a great honor to be compared to him. He's obviously a wonderful swimmer and it's very incredible to see what he's been able to do," she said.
Amazing athlete despite size
The Paralympics are for athletes with physical disabilities. Popovich was born with achondroplasia, severely restricting the growth of her limbs. She is just 4-foot-4 ¾ tall. This is her third time at the Paralympics. She competed previously in Athens, Greece in 2004 and in Sydney, Australia in 2000. She now has 14 gold medals in her career and two world records. Popovich is a native of Silverbow, Mont., but lives and trains in Fort Collins with CSU swim coach John Mattos and Fort Collins Area Swim Team coach Bill Spahn. She graduated from Colorado State in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in health and exercise science.
Positive 'can do' attitude
"Erin is not your typical athlete," said Mattos. "She is determined to succeed, works hard, and displays a positive 'can do' attitude. She's respected, admired, and loved by her teammates because she trains tall even though she walks small. She is an inspiration to all of us."
Popovich takes her determination into the water. In her first event, the 200 meter individual medley, she destroyed her own world record by almost a full six seconds.
Focused on what's possible
"The best thing about the Paralympic Games is that stereotypes are dispelled," says Popovich. "You see someone in a wheelchair or with a certain disability and instead of dwelling on their problems, you see they are focused on what they can achieve. I'm blown away by their abilities."
The Americans finished in third place behind China and Great Britain in the medal count with 33 gold medals and 92 total medals. China was high above the competition with 187 medals (80 gold) and Great Britain finished with 96 medals (41 gold).
Popovich's Paralympics performance
- Gold - 200m Individual Medley 2:54.62: beat her previous record of 3:00.34, new world record
- Gold - 100m Freestyle 1:11.82: beat her previous record of 1:14.62
- Gold - 100m Breaststroke 1:31.60: previous record was 1:32.52, new world record
- Gold - 400m Freestyle 5:17.41: just shy of the world record, 5:17.06, 14th career gold medal
- Silver - 50m Butterfly heat 37.87: second to Min Huang of China at 34.47, new world record
- Silver - 50m Freestyle heat 33.92: second to teammate Courtney Jordan of the U.S.A. by only 0.08 seconds
Erin Popovich speaks on campus Nov. 12
Erin Popovich will present, "Swimming for the Gold," as part of the Women at Noon discussion program on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at the Lory Student Center, Room 214-216. Join us as she talks about her experience at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. The event is free and open to the public.