Rome 2009, Day 5:
Men's 100m freestyle final
Cesar Cielo (BRA) becomes first official man under 47sec to win 100m free crown in 46.91 ahead of Alain Bernard (FRA), the first unofficial man below 47 and silver medal winner in 47.12. The X-Glides defeated the Jaked, which was worn by Fred Bousquet (FRA) on his way to bronze in 47.25.
Cielo sang his anthem for a minute and then broke down, As tears rolled down his face, the Roman crowd responded to his emotion with a roar of appreciation. Cielo's podium performance was the most sincere of these championships so far, in so far as it highlighted that behind the suits, behind the monotonous fall of world records, behind the sham of a result sheet skewed by equipment that ought never to have been allowed to overshadow the swimmer, there is immense dedication, hard work and sacrifice.
Those things will walk out into the sun with the swimmer once more in 2010, when FINA brings an end to the circus in a return to textiles, smaller suits and swimming.
That made 25 world records so far in Rome, matching the number of world marks set in Beijing when the LZR was the fastest suit in town. No longer.
Cielo, Olympic 50m champion, blasted 0.14sec off the standard set by Eamon Sullivan (AUS) in the semis at the Beijing Olympic Games. The blue ribband world record is now almost a second faster than it was at the beginning of February 2008 before the LZR launched an assault on swimming as a technique-based sport.
The splits compared:
Coach at Auburn to Cielo and Bousquet, Brett Hawke, took the champion's goggles to the Vatican and dipped them in Holy water for the catholic sprinter. "It meant alot to him," said Hawke, who has coached his sprinters well but had the grace to acknowledge the contribution that suits had made to the times on the clock.
Hawke spoke in response to a question put to Cielo. Did he think that sub-47sec times were possible in textile briefs? The champion said: "We will see next year. The thing is we know how to do it. We know what we need to do to do to get to 46. If we believe it we can do it."
Others at these championships have spoke about the effects of suits and the lessons that have been learned from them. "I believe in what Cesar says," says Hawke. "I think it won't come immediately. There is no doubt that these suits are helping but the swimmers have now swum these times. Once this is in your head as an athlete it is hard to get out. I think it is possible in the next few years [to get below 47 in textile shorts]," said Hawke.
For many years, artificial props have been used in training to simulate faster speed than swimmers can achieve naturally, from use of flippers to ropes and other means and methods. None of which means that the swimmer can replicate the speed being learned in the actual race. Nor is this just about those at the very helm of the sport. Just 18 months ago two men had ever managed to get below 48sec over 100m freestyle and they did so in textile suits, leggings and a full body no arms. Now there are 19 men in the sub-48sec zone.
Swimmers must believe but the body also has to deliver. As Cielo says: we will see next year. The more certain thing is the he will be a player in whatever he wears. The difference will be that is achievements will not be tainted or called into question because of the presence of a suit. It is good to hear Hawke acknowledge that the suit contributed to the times that his sprinters have knocked out this season.
Cielo's was the first gold for Brazil in Rome. The sprint king is also one of only two South Americans ever to win a world l/c swim title. The other was countryman Ricardo Prado in the 400m medley back in 1982.
The sprint title was nailed with "a perfect finish", said Cielo. "I just focused on what I needed to do, and there was a little bit of luck thrown in there." Alot of effort too: "I got close to my limit - and that was key." Asked about the tears that he shed in Beijing and again here in Rome, he said: "It’s not easy being Brazilian. Everyone expects that when you race, you should win, and coming in second is a disappointment. When I went to race, I couldn't feel my hands; my face, yet I knew I had to perform even though I couldn’t feel my body. When I got on the podium after it all, I relaxed a bit, but yes, I was emotional."
Bernard, Olympic champion, was gracious in defeat, saying: "The main lesson I will take from this race is that, well, of course second was not ideal, but anyway, I worked very hard over the last year and I will continue to do that. I don’t believe second is a failure. I put all my energy and strength into the final and making the final and I did it well."
Meantime, we recall that the 2007 title went to Filipo Magnini (ITA) and Brent Hayden (CAN), in 48.43, with Eamon Sullivan (AUS) third in 48.47. A little over a year year and wearing a Speedo LZR with its polyurethane panels that stole a march on rivals by interpreting FINA guidelines on suits in a way that no other suit maker had, Sullivan took the mark down to 47.05 in the semi-finals at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Performance enhancement from suits had never been so obvious as the times on the clock.