Rio de Janeiro residents favor swimmer Cesar Cielo to carry Brazil’s flag at the first Olympics in South America on Aug. 5, according to a Rio university research poll cited by O Globo.
Cielo, a three-time Olympic medalist in sprint freestyles, garnered 19 percent of the vote in a December survey of 1,144 people, according to the report.
Arthur Zanetti, who at London 2012 became Brazil’s first gymnastics medalist (gold on still rings), came in second at 14 percent followed by Giba, a three-time Olympic medalist volleyball player who retired in 2014.
Neymar, the nation’s most recognizable active athlete, was fourth at eight percent. Soccer may be Brazil’s national sport, but it is not as synonymous with the Olympics as swimming, gymnastics and volleyball.
Swimmers and gymnasts often skip the Opening Ceremony to rest before the start of their competitions in the first days of the Olympics. Michael Phelps, for example, has never marched at an Opening Ceremony.
Cielo, 28, might not even qualify for the Brazil Olympic team.
He withdrew from the World Swimming Championships in August due to a left shoulder injury after placing sixth in the 50m butterfly, which is not an Olympic event.
Cielo had won three straight World titles in the 50m free, an Olympic event, before last year but ceded his spot as Brazil’s best sprint freestyler. Bruno Fratus earned bronze in the event in Cielo’s absence at Worlds. Cielo finished the year ranked No. 2 in Brazil in the 50m free. A maximum of two swimmers per nation can enter an Olympic event.
Cielo then also pulled out of a Brazilian Olympic qualifying meet in December, after placing 11th in 100m free preliminaries and before the 50m free, his best event, due to a reported private matter.
Cielo will get another chance to make the Brazil Olympic team at an April meet in Brazil.
If Cielo makes the Olympic team in the 50m free but not the 100m free or 4x100m free relays, he could buck the trend of swimmers skipping the Opening Ceremony. That’s because the 50m free is one of the final swimming events on the Olympic program, with heats beginning six days after the Opening Ceremony.