Cesar Cielo (BRA)
Honor Swimmer (2023)
FOR THE RECORD: 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (50m freestyle), bronze (100m freestyle); 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES: bronze (50m freestyle); TWO WORLD RECORDS: (50m freestyle) still standing, broken on December 18, 2009, (100m freestyle) lasting an astounding almost 13 years, from July 30, 2009 until August 13, 2022; 2017 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): silver (4 x 100 freestyle relay); 2013 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (50m freestyle, 50m butterfly); 2011 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (50m freestyle, 50m butterfly); 2009 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle); 2018 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): bronze (400m freestyle relay, 200m medley relay); 2014 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): gold (100m freestyle, 200m medley relay, 400m medley relay) bronze (50m freestyle, 200m freestyle mixed relay); 2010 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): gold (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle), bronze (400m freestyle relay, 400m medley relay); 2004 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): silver (400m freestyle relay); first man to swim under 47 seconds in the 100m freestyle, and under 41 seconds in the 100yd freestyle.
The third Brazilian to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Cesar Cielo was an elite performer in his homeland early in his teen years. Initially splitting time between backstroke and freestyle, he eventually shifted his attention to the sprint-freestyle events, a decision that would pay major dividends.
Ranked as the top teenager in Brazil, Cielo’s career took off when he made the decision to attend college in the United States at Auburn University. Joining forces with coaches David Marsh and Brett Hawke, Cielo not only further fueled the NCAA championship tradition of the Tigers but emerged as a world-class threat who would alter the landscape of future Olympic Games and World Championships.
A finalist in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles as a freshman at the NCAA Championships, Cielo made a huge jump in his sophomore season. During that campaign, he claimed NCAA titles in the sprint events, and was the lynchpin on several victorious relays. His efforts led to Cielo being named NCAA Swimmer of the Year, an accolade he earned again the following year, when he blasted times of 18.47 and 40.92 to secure NCAA crowns in the 50 free and 100 free.
Cielo’s time at Auburn also allowed him to develop into a global star in the long-course pool. At the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Cielo qualified for the finals of the 50 free and 100 free, where he placed sixth and fourth, respectively. Most importantly, Cielo recognized he belonged on the biggest of stages, and used this knowledge to fuel him on the road to the 2008 Olympics.
At the Beijing Games, Cielo fended off a stacked field in the 50-meter freestyle to become Olympic champion. After topping the semifinals, Cielo produced his finest performance in the final, clocking 21.30 to finish comfortably ahead of Frenchmen Amaury Leveaux and Alain Bernard. His meet also featured a bronze medal in the 100 freestyle, and his gold in the shorter event is the only title won by a Brazilian in the Olympic pool.
The next year, at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, Cielo doubled in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle, the 100 free producing a world record. Later in the year, Cielo broke the world record in the 50 freestyle, with his 20.91 outing still standing as the global standard.
Cielo’s sprint success continued at the next two editions of the World Championships. In 2011 and 2013, he was golden in the 50 freestyle and 50 butterfly, his efforts in the fly demonstrating his ability to take his speed to another stroke. In between, he added a bronze medal in the 50 freestyle at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Cielo was also a world champion in the short-course pool.
A three-time Olympic medalist and seven-time medalist at the long-course version of the World Championships, Cesar Cielo will long be remembered as one of the finest sprinters the sport has seen.