By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 16. HOW badly did Brazil's Cesar Cielo want a gold medal? His reaction after the championship final of the 50 freestyle told the story. After realizing he had touched first in the splash-and-dash, Cielo punched the water on a number of occasions and briefly sat on the lane rope while celebrating his career-defining moment.
The top seed heading into the title race, Cielo poured it during his 50-meter outing, touching the wall in an Olympic-record time of 21.30, the second-fastest performance in history. Cielo finished just outside of Australian Eamon Sullivan's world record of 21.28. Cielo, of course, is well known in the United States as the greatest sprinter in NCAA history, thanks to his career at Auburn University.
"I'm very happy," Cielo said. "I was a little nervous before the race, but I think that was my best race ever. My dream was to be an Olympic champion and that is now realized."
The French tandem of Amaury Leveaux and Alain Bernard collected the silver and bronze medals with respective times of 21.45 and 21.49. Both men were members of France's silver-medal squad in the 400 freestyle relay and it was Bernard's second individual medal, going with the gold he won in the 100 freestyle.
Australian Ashley Callus was the fourth-place finisher in 21.62, a surprise that he was the fastest man from his nation in the event. Sullivan, the favorite for gold and expected to at least make the podium, was sixth after producing a time of 21.65. Sullivan indicated a day earlier that he wasn't feeling in peak form.
American Ben Wildman-Tobriner, the reigning world champion, was the fifth-place finisher in 21.64 and seventh place went to South Africa's Roland Schoeman in 21.67, good for an African record. Sweden's Stefan Nystrand was eighth with a mark of 21.72. All eight of the finalists produced times that would have won every prior Olympic title.