PROFILE-Olympics-Cesar hoping to emulate heroes in London
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 27 |
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 27 (Reuters) - If Brazilian swimmer Cesar Cielo wins gold in the 50 metres freestyle at London he won't just be retaining the Olympic title he won in Beijing, he will be emulating his heroes.
Only two swimmers have won the one-lap sprint at successive Olympics, Russia's Alexander Popov and American Gary Hall Jr and Cielo, a surprise winner four years ago, hopes to join them.
"It would continue the history of my heroes," he said.
"Popov was double Olympic champion in '92 and '96 and then Gary Hall came along and won in 2000 and 2004 and I would be the next on the list.
"That's a good goal, to have my name on that list alongside these guys."
Cielo has every reason to feel confident about his chances. He owns the world record (20.91 seconds) which he set in 2009 before synthetic bodysuits were banned, and has the fastest time in the world this year (21.38).
He will go to London as the favourite, in stark contrast to four years ago when he went to Beijing as just another hopeful, who had been swimming in American college races just a few months before his breakthrough win.
This time around his entire focus has been on peaking physically and mentally for London. He chafes at his coach's ban on fatty foods - he says when his events are finished he is going to eat, "like 17 McDonalds" - but he knows it makes sense if he is to triumph.
Cielo, 25, will also swim in the 100m freestyle, though he is less confident about his chances there despite also holding the world record (46.91) and finishing third in Beijing.
"That's harder. I want to do my best in both and if it all works out two gold medals are possible," he said.
"I want to be like Beijing, win two medals, the gold in the 50 and another in the 100."
SURVIVING DOPING CONTROVERSY
Cielo's success has been tinged with controversy. Both his world records were set in now-banned bodysuits and in 2011, he tested positive for the banned diuretic furosemide at a competition in Rio.
He denied any wrongdoing, saying it was a mistake made by a pharmacy, and escaped with a warning from the Brazilian Swimming Federation. Swimming' s world governing body FINA appealed the decision but the Court of Arbitration upheld the Brazilian ruling.
When he won the 50m at last year's world championships in Shanghai, some of his rivals expressed their displeasure, and Cielo winces when the subject is raised.
"I had to learn who my real friends were, who I could talk to and who wanted to kill me," he said.
"It challenged me to see if I could overcome something like that. Today I am much more prepared for any eventuality and any setback."
OVERALL IMPROVEMENT IN MEDAL HAUL
Cielo's rise is indicative of the steady improvement in Brazilian swimming.
Brazil failed to win a single medal in swimming at Athens in 2004 and Cielo won their only medals in Beijing, becoming the first Brazilian to win an Olympic swimming gold. At last year's world championships, Brazil won three gold medals.
"We have come on as a group," he said.
"Our athletes in the pool are now so respected that we are among the favourites in the relays....so let's see if we can win three or four more in London." (Editing by Julian Linden)
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