“Revenge Day” for Cielo, Huegill and Dale Oen

Shanghai 2011 - Swimming

credit: Giorgio ScalaCesar Cielo Filho (BRA) has definitively solid nerves. First Olympic swimming champion for Brazil in 2008 (in the men’s 50m free), he touched the sky in 2009 after winning the 50m and 100m free races at the FINA World Championships in Rome (ITA). “Positive” nerves, one would say: you train, you make splendid races, you win, and you receive your medal (occasions in which he often cries…). Cielo has since then become a legend in Brazil, where he is an icon of the country’s passion for sport – additionally, he is one of the most prestigious ambassadors of the 2016 Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro. Two months ago, his world turned upside down: after taking his usual nutritional supplement, a positive doping test led to a warning from his National Federation. FINA appealed the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Olympic champion had to wait for an audience held while he was already in Shanghai to know if he could swim at these championships: the verdict was a relief for him. The warning sanction was validated by the CAS and Cielo was free to shine in the pool.

At his first opportunity, he did it. In a distance and event (almost) new to him (he had won this race at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships), the men’s 50m butterfly. Already the fastest in the semis, the Brazilian star controlled the race and touched first in a time of 23.10, earning his first medal here in Shanghai. At the podium ceremony, the entire pressure of the last weeks came out, and tears rolled in the Brazilian’s face… The first revenge of the day: the one of performance over suspicion.

“This gold has definitely a different taste than the other ones. That was probably the hardest medal in my life; I knew I was going to race against the world’s best, and to be able to compete after what I have been through this last month is really a blessing,” Cielo declared. “With what happened, it was a time to test how much I could take and if I would be able to stand up again, and I am really proud of myself for doing this. Medals are important but I cannot imagine my life without the environment of swimming and the friends I have made,” concluded the Brazilian star.

Cielo left behind him two Australians: Matthew Targett, who got the silver (as in Rome 2009), touching in 23.28, and Geoff Huegill, third in 23.35. At 32, this medal had also a special meaning for Huegill: when Cielo was 11, in 1998, the Australian was already winning medals in the pool. In Perth, at the FINA World Championships, the Australian started a successful career that includes four medals at FINA’s major event: 13 years ago, he got the bronze in the 100m butterfly, and in 2001, in Fukuoka (JPN), he raised his collection with two gold (50m butterfly and 4x100m medley relay) and another bronze (100m butterfly). After an unsuccessful participation at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Huegill lost motivation and announced his retirement. But in November 2008, the appeal of the pool called back and Huegill imposed himself a challenge: lose the 40kg he had gained and return to the competition to win again. In 2010, he started to collect the fruits of his decision and clinched the Commonwealth Games title in the 100m butterfly. Shanghai’s gold definitively marks his return to the world scene! Second revenge moment of the session: the one of hard work over loss of motivation.

In the women’s 100m butterfly, the first final of the day, Dana Vollmer (USA) gave her country the first gold medal of the swimming competition, after being second on Day 1 in the 4x100m free relay. Vollmer, 23, touched home in 56.87, still 0.40 off her personal best, established in the semi-finals (56.47). This was the first individual gold for Vollmer at FINA World Championships, after winning the 2007 title in the 4x100m medley relay, finishing second in the 2009 4x200m free relay, and third in the 200m free, also two years ago in the Italian capital. She also has one gold Olympic medal, the 2004 title in the 4x200m free relay.


Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) - Credit: Giorgio Scala
Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) - Credit: Giorgio Scala


The silver went to Australia’s Alicia Coutts in 56.94 (at the 50m mark, she was under the World Record pace, clocking 26.51), her first medal so far in FINA World Championships. Coutts was the gold medallist in this event, at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi (IND). Also a first at this level was the bronze medal of China’s Ying Lu in 57.06 – third of the 50m butterfly at the 2010 Asian Games, Lu repeats the success of her teammate Liuyang Jiao in Rome 2009.

Finally, Sarah Sjoestroem (SWE), the defending world champion, was fourth in 57.38, while 200m butterfly Olympic champion Zige Liu (CHN) was sixth in 57.57 and silver medallist from Rome 2009, Jessicah Schipper (AUS), concluded in seventh (57.95).

Alicia Coutts was again in action in the women’s 200m individual medley, where she once more got the silver in 2:09.00. In a thrilling race, the victory came to local swimmer Shiwen Ye (first swimming gold for the host country in these championships), who concluded in 2:08.90 (best performance of the year) and was “helped” by the thousands of fans in the pool stands in the last metres of her epic effort. It is Ye’s first success at this level, after being second in the 200m and 400m individual medley at the 10th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), last December in Dubai (UAE). Ariana Kukors (USA), the defending world champion, was third in 2:09.12, while Olympic champion Stephanie Rice (AUS) finished fourth in 2:09.65.

“This is the first gold medal for China in swimming so I am very happy. Usually I am bad at turns, so I got more training before the competition to improve that. My parents were here and said that what matters is the process, not the result. I want to tell them: I made it!” considered Ye, 15 years old.

In the last final of the day, the men’s 100m breaststroke, Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) certainly gave some joy to his country fellows, in mourning after the heart-breaking events of this week in the Nordic European nation. Silver medallist at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Dale Oen obtains the first medal ever for Norwegian male swimmers at the FINA World Championships. Touching home in 58.71 (quite close to the 58.58 World Record established in Rome 2009 by Australia’s Brenton Rickard), Dale Oen perfectly controlled the race, leaving “far” behind Italy’s Fabio Scozzoli (second in 59.42 – first medal at this level) and South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh (third in 59.49 – the same result as two years ago in Rome).

“It’s a very special medal after what happened in my country in the last days. Luckily, we are a big team and there are a lot of people surrounding us. I try not to think too much about what happened back home but it’s quite impossible... It’s very hard,” confessed an emotive Dale Oen. “It’s been really tough but I’m happy I could put it in the back of my head for a minute or two and I just focused on the race. Seeing the flag, hearing the national anthem, everything was coming back and even though it’s been three days, it is still a shock.”

Third revenge note of these finals: the one of sport over human madness!