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M50 Free: Cielo, Sprint Emperor Once More

Jul 30, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 7 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai

Men's 50m freestyle

The day after the international doping tribunal delivered the detail of why it let Cesar Cielo off with a warning on the eve of the championships, the Brazilian now back home from the US and coached by Alberto Pinto retained the dash crown in 21.52sec, his margin of victory the biggest in world-championship history since the 50m was introduced in Madrid, 1986.

In a blanket rush for the minor spoils, the silver went to to Luca Dotto (ITA) in 21.90, bronze to Alain Bernard (FRA), 21.91, that locking out Nathan Adrian (USA) by 0.01sec.

Only Fred Bousquet (FRA) has ever gone faster in a textile suit, while Cielo's winning time is the 44th best performance ever, 42 of those swum by sprinters wearing non-textile suits now banned. Cielo is the world record holder in the event, clocking 20.91 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in December 2009, just before the bodysuit ban.

Cielo, his pavlovian instinct unstoppable as tears flowed once more upon hearing the Brazilian anthem, said after receiving his second gold of the meet (the non-Olympic 50m butterfly his other crown), that he had missed former Auburn teammate Fred Bousquet in the race, the Frenchman "the toughest opponent I had". 

On his tortured journey to Shanghai via a CAS appeal hearing, Cielo said: "It's a big relief after months of craziness. I get to finish with two gold medals like I had in Rome. I've been tense the whole week. I'm a more mature guy for all of this. I am 24 but I feel 44."

The result:

  • 1. Cesar Cielo (BRA) 21.52
  • 2. Luca Dotto (Italy) 21.90
  • 3. Alain Bernard (FRA) 21.92
  • 4. Nathan Adrian (USA) 21.93
  • 5. Bruno Fratus (BRA) 21.96
  • 6. Krisztian Takacs (HUN) 21.99
  • 7. George Bovell (TRI) 22.04
  • 8. Gideon Louw (RSA) 22.11

History in the making:


  • WR (all suits): 20.91 Cesar Cielo (BRA) December 2009
  • WR (textile):   21.36 Frederick Bousquet (FRA) 2010 (23rd best performance all suits)

World-class stats:

  • World Record wins: None
  • Title retained: Tom Jager (USA); Cesar Cielo (BRA)
  • Biggest margin of victory: Cesar Cielo (BRA), on 21.52, kept Luca Dotto (ITA) at bay by 0.39sec at Shanghai 2011. (Previous: Jager (USA) beat Dano Halsall (SUI) by 0.31sec in the inaugural event in 1986)
  • Closest shave: Ben Wildman-Tobriner (USA) beat teammate Cullen Jones by 0.06sec in 2007, with Stefan Nystrand (SWE) just 0.03sec further back.

From the archive:

The inaugural 1986 50m crown went to Tom Jager (USA), in 22.49. In 1988, Matt Biondi claimed the inaugural 1988 Olympic crown in 22.14. On March 24, 1990, Jager cracked 22sec with a 21.98sec heats swim before a 21.81 final. That stood until June 16, 2000, when Alexander Popov (RUS) clocked 21.64. Jager and Biondi, one of only two men to have won medals in the 50m, 100m and 200m at world championships, remained in the all-time top 10 until March 2008, with Popov at the helm. In a new era of textile suits, Popov’s 21.64 remains a target for most, only Cielo, Bousquet and Nathan Adrian having surpassed the mark in textile suits since.