Analysis: Men's 50m Freestyle
Craig Lord
The world title win from 2007 would not have finished in the top eight in Beijing. Nothing unusual in that, then? Well, yes, there is

Beijing 2008:

  • 1. Cesar Cielo (BRA) 21.30or
  • 2. Amaury Leveax (FRA) 21.45
  • 3. Alain Bernard (FRA) 21.49

Fastest final: Beijing - 21.30 - 21.72

Comparison fields:

  • Melbourne 2007: 21.88 - 22.28
  • Athens 2004: 21.93 - 22.37

Facts going into the race:

  • World record: 21.28 - Eamon Sullivan (AUS), Sydney, 28.3.08
  • Olympic champion: Gary Hall Jr (USA) 21.93
  • World champion: Ben Wildman-Tobriner (USA) 21.88

Impact of morning finals - what it took to qualify for semis:

  • Beijing 2008: 21.46 - 22.17
  • Melbourne 2007: 22.03 - 22.63
  • Athens 1004: 22.04 - 22.53

Notes from the race:

The world title win from 2007 would not have finished in the top eight in Beijing. Nothing unusual in that, some would say. They lie. But the Samba Begin! Hail Cesar Cielo - first Brazilian Olympic swimming champion. The tussle was supposed to be between world record holder and high-tech glider Eamon Sullivan (AUS) and French combine harvester Alain Bernard (FRA), but it was Cielo who found clear blue water as he blasted down the pool to an Olympic record of 21.30. The minor spoils went to two of the growing number of French sprint musketeers, Amaury Leveax, in 21.45, and Bernard, in 21.49. Veteran Ashley Callus (AUS) found himself ahead of the best pace that Alex Popov ever managed (can you imagine that!) and up on world champion Ben Wildman-Tobriner (USA), teammate Sullivan and Olympic bronze medallist from 2004 Roland Schoeman (RSA). Cielo broke down and fell into the arms of the Frenchmen on the podium, his tears unstoppable. "After yesterday's semi final when I broke the Olympic record, I thought I could bring it down further, I spent all day thinking about this, but finally I stopped and was able to sleep well. But it is difficult to have super swimmers around me ... today was my lucky day, the sun shone for me today." The race was thrilling, the speed sizzling, proof aplenty that fast-skin or not, racing is what counts. Still, hard to judge where the new clock lies right now in an event so heavily skewed by technology: 15 of the fastest 20 times ever and 51 of the best 100 ever all since February 2008. Alex Popov's world record stood at 21.64 at the turn of 2008. It is now 10th fastest ever. Swimmers from four nations and coached in three nations got past the Russian sprint tsar. Must be the coaching, the talent, the this and the that. It's the suit too - no question. A period of calm reflection and adjustment is much needed before the storm brews once more in readiness for Rome 2009. Inconsolable Cielo said: "I'm very happy. 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 realised." In contrast to the victor, the vanquished, Sullivan said: "I haven't been at my best. The last couple of days have taken it out of me. It's been tough. I just didn't have it on the day - it's the way it goes."

Impact on all-time top 10:

  • 21.28 Sullivan, Eamon AUS
  • 21.30 Cielo, Cesar  BRA BEIJING F
  • 21.38 Leveaux, Amaury FRA
  • 21.47 Weber-Gale, Garrett USA
  • 21.49 Bernard, Alain FRA BEIJING F
  • 21.53 Bousquet, Frederick FRA
  • 21.59 Jones, Cullen USA
  • 21.62 Callus, Ashley AUS BEIJING F
  • 21.64 WildmanTobriner 1984, USA BEIJING F
  • 21.64 Popov, Alexander RUS

All-time top 10, end 2007:

  • 21.64 Popov (RUS) 2000

  • 21.69 Schoeman (RSA) 2002

  • 21.76 Hall (USA) 2000

  • 21.76 Bernard (FRA) 2007

  • 21.80 Ervin (USA) 2000

  • 21.80 Wildman-Tobriner 2007

  • 21.81 Jager (USA) 1990

  • 21.82 Jones (USA) 2007

  • 21.84 Cielo (BRA) 2007

  • 21.85 Biondi (USA) 1990


Of the seven finals held (1904 was the last before 1988), the USA has won three, Alexander Popov (RUS) two, and Zoltan Halmay (HUN) the Inaugural crown. Gary Hall Jnr shared the crown in 2000 with teammate Anthony Ervin in a final that marked the first joint gold awarded for men in Olympic swimming history. Popov was the first to retain the title, while Hall, champion once more in 2004, finished 4th at US trials and swam into history. Cesar Cielo is the first Brazilian winner of any Olympic swimming title.

  • Fastest: 21.30, Cielo, 2008
  • World Record wins: Matt Biondi (USA) 22.14, 1988

  • Biggest margin: Biondi's 0.22sec win over teammate Tom Jager in the loosest final, one split by 1.01sec

  • Closest shave: Hall and Erivin's tie in 21.98, which kept Pieter van den Hoogenband from winning three gold medals b y just 0.05sec. Hall then won again in 2004, in 21.93, by 0.1sec over Duje Draganja (CRO) in the tightest final, one split by 0.44sec.