Brazil Makes Huge Blunder in 400 Free Relay

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By John Lohn

LONDON, July 29. ALLOW us for a moment to simulate the Academy Awards, albeit aquatic style. The award for dumbest decision of the 2012 London Olympic Games goes to (drum roll): The Brazilian coaching staff. Actually, it's like Brazil has a stranglehold on this not-so-desired award, and here's the reason.

For the second straight major international competition, Brazil missed out on qualifying for the championship final of the 400 freestyle relay Sunday morning, its preliminary clocking of 3:16.14 good for only ninth place. That effort left the Brazilians .36 behind Italy for the last invitation to the medal race. And it was its own fault.

It would be one thing if Brazil put together its best lineup and missed out. No one can blame a country if it doesn't have the horses to get the job done. Brazil, however, is not in that position. No, Brazil has Cesar Cielo to lean on and didn't use him in the prelims. One more time: One of the best sprint freestylers in the world — the guy who owns the world record in the 50 and 100 freestyles — was not on the morning relay, and it cost Brazil a chance to battle for some hardware.

Had the Brazilians placed Cielo on the morning squad and he performed anywhere near his potential, the host country of the next Olympiad would have easily advanced, and Italy would have been out. It's not as though Cielo is taxed, either, in terms of his schedule. He has tomorrow off before starting the heats of the 100 free on Tuesday.

As previously mentioned, this is the second consecutive time in which Brazil has made a significant error in the 400 free relay. At last summer's World Championships, Brazil also didn't use Cielo during the prelim round. Guess what happened? It finished ninth, again one spot shy of the championship final. You would think a coaching staff would learn from that miscue. Ah, nope. Apparently, Brazil felt it wouldn't get burned this time around. Why take the chance?

On a smaller stage, gambles such as the one taken by Brazil are acceptable, largely because you can get away with it. But this is the Olympics, and the last thing a team wants to do is slip on a banana peel that was thrown down by its own people. Simply put, Brazil isn't Australia, France or the United States, countries which can mix and match their prelim relays with a little more ease.

Here are a few analogies to what Brazil did this morning:

* It's Game 7 of the NBA Finals and the Lakers decide that Kobe Bryant will not play the first half against the Celtics. By the time the third quarter starts, Boston is up by 22 and it doesn't matter what Bryant brings to the table. The Lakers lose.
* It's the NFC Championship game and the New Orleans Saints decide that quarterback Drew Brees will get the day off so he can be fresh for the Super Bowl. Three hours later, the Saints fall to the Green Bay Packers, 35-3. No offense without Brees. No power without Cielo for Brazil.
* It's the final round of the Masters and Tiger Woods decides to putt left-handed on the front nine. He ultimately drops a one-stroke decision to Phil Mickelson.

These analogies are intentionally ludicrous, just as Brazil's decision to not race Cielo was ridiculous and nonsensical. Truthfully, the Brazilians would have had a tough time winning a medal, but a country has to give its best effort and that didn't happen. In some ways, the move laughed in the face of the Olympic spirit.

The first three sessions of the Olympics have been full of surprises, from an overturned disqualification of Tae-Hwan Park in the 400 freestyle to the fourth-place finish by Michael Phelps in the 400 individual medley to the world record of Ye Shiwen in the women's version of the 400 IM.

Now, the Olympics have been dotted with a boneheaded decision, courtesy of Brazil. Its athletes will watch the final of the 400 free relay tonight, and for that scenario, they only need to look within their own team.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn