Dubai, world s/c championships, day 3 finals
Men's 50m Freestyle
In the headier days of Russian Alex Popov's career, he was known with good reason as the Sprint Tsar, his dashes to glory tight but marked by an odd feeling that he almost always had a critical edge on those who tried in vain to topple him.
The same could be said of Cesar Cielo, the Brazilian Sprint Emperor who from three strokes out of his start never looked likely to lose on his way to a blistering 20.51 championship record a clear margin ahead of silver for Fred Bousquet (FRA) in 20.81 and Josh Schneider (USA) in 20.88. That locked out the other man in the hunt under 21sec, Steffen Deibler (GER), on 20.97 an hour or so after having set a championship record of 22.57 to lead the way into the 50m butterfly final and shake off the butterflies that appeared to afflict him on day one in Dubai when he missed the cut for the 100m 'fly semis.
Cielo, coached by Alberto Pinto in Brazil and mentored by Brett Hawke at Auburn, was sublime, rolling like thunder into a windmill of fiery flow out of his start, the momentum he gathered like none other could in the race. At the turn he was the only man who stood out, his legs flipping over with a distinct advantage that was all the more noticeable as he drove under the wave and out the other side with a head and shoulders lead that no-one could possibly have clawed back.
The Brazilian ripped off his cap, punched the air, leapt on the lane line and pointed a finger heavenward, looking towards his frenetic fan club in the stands and mouthing, much to their delight: "I am No 1". No greater truth could he have told.
The top three times are the best three ever by men in textile suits, with Deibler in at No5 all-time. Cesar followed through with as weighty a performance on the podium, the anthem and moment too much when it came to resisting the tears that preceded the beaming smile. Bousquet, his former teammate at Auburn did not smile at all, a 0.3sec defeat over 50m surely something to think about.
History in the making:
World s/c Podiums
Most world titles in this event:
Records (TB = best ever in a textile suit)
Most world records in this event (since specific 25m records began in 1991):
All-time textile rankings top 5:
From the archive:
Just two men who held the dash world s/c record also managed to win the Olympic crown: Alex Popov (RUS) and Anthony Lee Ervin (USA). Ervin clocked a world s/c mark of 21.21 in March 2000 in the midst of a career laden with first but noted for three pioneering peaks in particular: the first man of African-American extraction race for the United States, the first to win an Olympic swimming title (2000, 50m freestyle) and the first man, with teammate and Sydney 2000 roommate Gary Hall Jr., to share one (women got there first in 1984 courtesy of Nancy Hogshead and Carrie Steinseifer, US, in the women's 100m freestyle). If his swimming success were a source of joy for Ervin, the racial stereotyping was not. Born of a three-quarters African-American father and a white Jewish mother, Ervin said: "I feel the labels, in a way, belittle who I am. I’m proud to be black. I’m proud of my Jewish heritage. I’m proud of everything that makes me who I am. All of that makes me a unique person, just like anyone else." Coached by Mike Bottom, at University of California, Berkeley, and with Hall Jr’s sprint group in Phoenix, Arizona, Ervin sold his Olympic gold medal on Ebay for $17,100 in March 2005, with a view to donating the money to UNICEF for tsunami relief. A practicing Zen Buddhist, Ervin studied classical music after retiring in February 2004.