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Feature: Swimmer Popovich finds herself in water
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18:34, September 12, 2008

Erin Popovich hobbled to the pool with her back and arms covered in a white towel. She then started her pre-race ritual, taking off the jacket, wiping off the water on the start block with the towel and stretching her legs and arms.

While her rivals were jumping up and down while waiting for the order to go, the super-calm Popovich just shook her arms. Then she pulled herself up on the block and dove in the pool as the gun started.

The fourth event, the fourth gold medal. Popovich continued her miraculous run at the Beijing Paralympics after her Athens glory.

The American swimmer, who stands 1.34 meters tall, touched the wall first with a new Paralympic record of five minutes 17.41 seconds in the women's S7 400m freestyle, beating her compatriot Cortney Jordan by 3.60 seconds.

"I didn't believe I could break 5:20, it was a huge success for me. I also wanted to thank Cortney. She kept the moment up and pushed me to get the whole race. Anyway, I'm very excited," said the winner on Thursday night.

It was Popovich's fourth straight win after she claimed the 200m individual medley SM7, 100m freestyle S7 and 100m breaststroke SB7.

Popovich said she had no secret weapon in making it four out four.

"Nothing special. It is due to hard work, lots of hard work. I also have to get the right preparation and did everything that I need to do before every race," she said.

Popovich, 23, was born with achondroplasia, which restricts the growth of her limbs. But her long sheet of achievements has proven disabilities don't necessarily means limits.

Starting competitive swimming in 1998, Erin showed her talent two years later when she won three gold medals with four new world records at the Sydney Paralympics.

In the Athens Paralympics in 2004, Popovich went for 7-for-7 in five individual events and two relays, reaping six golds.

At her third Paralympic tour in Beijing, the American looked to repeat the 2004 glory.

"This time one of my events is dropped from the program, so if I want to repeat the performance in Athens, it will be harder. But I will try my best in the following two events and I'm really looking forward to it." said Popovich.

In the National Aquatics Center, better known as Water Cube, where her fellow American Michael Phelps won his record-breaking eight gold medals a few weeks ago, Popovich is seen as a Paralympic equivalent to Phelps.

"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.

"He's definitely one of them (my idols). Seeing like what he did a few weeks ago here inspired me a lot and also gave me what needs to come here and to be successful." she said.

Graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor degree in science, Popovich said swimming played a big role in her life and college days.

"It is really a huge part of my life. It's something that I have been able to excel, something that can help me greatly in school, life and everything."


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