Cesar Cielo

Cesar Cielo, Brazil swim icon, in tears after failing to qualify for Rio Olympics

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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.

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Who should be Brazil Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearer?

Cesar Cielo
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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.

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Cesar Cielo pulls out of World Championships

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One of Brazil’s biggest Olympic stars is not doing so well one year before the Rio 2016 Games.

Cesar Cielo, the three-time reigning World champion in the 50m freestyle, withdrew from the World Swimming Championships on Wednesday due to a left shoulder injury and will not be able to attempt to win a fourth straight gold medal in the event Saturday.

Cielo, the 2008 Olympic 50m free champion and world-record holder, was not part of the 4x100m freestyle relay in Kazan, Russia, on Sunday. Brazil finished fourth.

He was sixth in the 50m butterfly Monday, failing to earn a third straight World title in that non-Olympic event.

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