It’s Throwback Thursday Featuring Cesar Cielo!!
07 September 2023, 04:29am
Throwback Thursday: When Cesar Cielo Captured Olympic Gold and the Emotional Aftermath (Video)
Later this month, Cesar Cielo will be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a celebration of his sprint prowess. As we count down the days to that evening in Fort Lauderdale, this installment of Throwback Thursday revisits the Brazilian’s gold-medal performance in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The easy part was the race, as crazy as that suggestion sounds. From experience, Cesar Cielo knew exactly what he needed to do to claim an Olympic title. Nail the start. Execute the breakout. Stay strong through the finish. Over and over, Cielo and coach Brett Hawke reviewed the finer details of the 50 freestyle.
So, as Cielo stepped onto the starting block for the final of the one-lap sprint at the Water Cube, the 21-year-old was awash in confidence. In peak form, Cielo eased through the preliminary round as the second-fastest performer, and then delivered the top mark of the semifinals. At that point, a little more than 21 seconds separated Cielo from completing a dream that only a few athletes realize.
Blazing a time of 21.30, Cielo comfortably mined gold. The Brazilian’s mark handed him a decisive triumph over silver medalist Amaury Leveaux of France, who touched in 21.45, and bronze medalist Alain Bernard, whose performance of 21.49 gave France two athletes on the podium.
A standout at Auburn University, Cielo advanced to the final of the 50 freestyle at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, finishing sixth. That showing proved Cielo belonged with the elite sprinters in the sport, and he was able to take his dominance in the American collegiate ranks and turn it into Olympic gold.
“I did it. It was my best race ever,” Cielo said in Beijing. “Today was my lucky day. The sun shone on me. I’m so overwhelmed with emotion. I gave up a lot for this medal. I never saw my family.”
The difficult part of the evening, in the most endearing way, was Cielo’s battle with his post-race emotions. As he stood on the podium and watched the Brazilian flag rise to the rafters as his nation’s anthem played, Cielo was overjoyed. He, too, was overcome, with tears streaming down his cheeks and sobs jolting his body.
Cognizant of the moment, the fans inside the venue rallied around Cielo. Some clapped. Some cheered. All provided support. Earlier in the evening, Cielo wowed those in attendance with a brilliant outing, and now the fans were going to applaud his talent and pay him back by carrying the Brazilian through the medals ceremony.
When Cielo is inducted into the Hall of Fame in a few weeks, perhaps his acceptance speech will be filled with emotion. It may not. Regardless, he will always have that spectacular evening in Beijing.