Cesar Cielo, Brazil’s most well-known active Olympic champion, failed to qualify for the Rio Games at his nation’s Olympic Trials.
Cielo, 29, finished third overall in the 50m freestyle at Brazil’s two-legged Olympic Trials, missing out by .09 of a second in his final race Wednesday evening at the Olympic venue in Rio de Janeiro. He broke down in tears in a post-race interview.
Cielo clocked 21.91 seconds in the splash-and-dash final behind Bruno Fratus (21.74) and Italo Duarte (21.82).
Cielo came into the final in Olympic qualifying position via his 21.99 time in a morning preliminary heat Wednesday. That swim put him in second place overall behind Fratus, who had clocked 21.50 at the trials’ first leg in December.
But Duarte unleashed a personal best by .26 in the final to overtake Cielo, Brazil’s only Olympic swimming champion, for the second and final Olympic berth in the event.
If Cielo is to compete at the Rio Olympics, Brazil’s swimming federation would have to put him on the 4x100m freestyle relay team.
That appears unlikely. Cielo’s best time in Olympic Trials meets — 48.97 — ranks him No. 7 among Brazilian men, and he reportedly dismissed the notion of joining the relay team in Rio late Wednesday.
Cielo is the 2008 Olympic champion and 2009, 2011 and 2013 World champion and world-record holder in the 50m freestyle but had struggled with injuries, slower times and withdrawing from meets in recent months.
Cielo withdrew during the first Olympic qualifying meet in December and the World Championships in August before he could swim the 50m free at both meets.
Knowing the pressure of Wednesday’s last chance, Cielo said he had trouble sleeping overnight, according to O Globo.
Cielo had already given up hope of Olympic qualifying in the 100m freestyle, clocking unimpressive times in preliminary heats at the December meet and on Monday.
Cielo was Brazil’s top 50m and 100m freestyle swimmer at the last two Olympics.
He took 50m freestyle gold at Beijing 2008, plus bronze in the 100m freestyle in Beijing and bronze in the 50m freestyle at London 2012.
His 50m free world record from 2009 is 20.91.
A winter poll of Rio de Janeiro residents tipped Cielo to carry Brazil’s flag into the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5 over such other Olympic stars as soccer player Neymar.