Vladimir Valeryevich Salnikov (Russian: Владимир Валерьевич Сальников; born 21 May 1960) is a Russian former freestyle swimmer who competed for the Soviet Union and set 12 world records in the 400, 800 and 1,500 meter events. Nicknamed the “Tsar of the Pool” but also the “Monster of the Waves” or simply the “Leningrad Express”, he was the first person to swim under fifteen minutes in the 1500 m freestyle and also the first person to swim under eight minutes in the 800 m freestyle. He was named the Male World Swimmer of the Year in 1982 by Swimming World.
Born in Leningrad, Soviet Union. Salnikov was the son of a sea captain. When he was seven years old, his mother took him to a swimming pool to join a swimming team. One year later he began to train regularly under the lead of coach. Salnikov trained at Zenit and later at the Armed Forces sports society.
His long sequence of international victories began at the 1977 European Championship where he won the gold medal in his favorite distance, the 1,500 m. At the 1978 World Championship in Berlin, Salnikov won gold medals in the 400 and 1,500 m, setting a new world record in the 400 meters. One year later he set another world record, in the 800 m, becoming the first person to complete the distance in less than eight minutes.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but Salnikov demonstrated that he was far superior to everybody, winning the 1500 m race in 14:58.27 and becoming the first person to swim the distance under 15 minutes. He won two more gold medals, in the 4×200 m relay and in the 400 m. At the 1,500 m his target was not just to win the gold, but to break the world record and the 15-minute barrier. During the race, he managed to control his timing by peeking at the clock by the pool side. Salnikov also planned to break the 400 m world record, but failed, and had to settle on the Olympic record. He did not prepare for the 4×200 m relay, and was enlisted to this event by the team managers.
In the early 1980s Salinikov was the absolute ruler of the freestyle races on the longer distances: in 1982 he retained his world titles, and one year later, at the URS Winter Nationals, he set a new world record in the 1,500 m with the time of 14:54.76: the record lasted until 1991, when it was beaten by the German Jörg Hoffmann (Salinikov’s record had actually been beaten by Glen Housman in Adelaide in December 1989, but due to a malfunction with the electronic timing, his new record time was disallowed).
The Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, so Salnikov could not defend his title. Salnikov went back to Seoul in 1988, aged 28, when he was considered too old. He had set a world record in 1986 in the 800 m, but since then never returned to his former form: he finished fourth in the 1,500 m at the 1986 world championships, and failed to reach the final at the 1987 European championships. His pre-Olympic results did not meet the standards set for the Soviet Olympic team, and he was included in the team only by intervention of Soviet officials. Salnikov did not fail, and won the 1,500 meters race, though he later admitted that in that race he went flat out and swam the last 20–30 meters in a blackout state. That night when entering the Olympic Village restaurant he was awarded a standing ovation by the other athletes.
His titles also include four World Championship gold medals, four European Championship gold medals and one European Championship silver medal.