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'Big Cesar' races to first Brazilian swim gold

8/16/2008

BEIJING, Aug 16 -- Cesar Cielo Filho took a leap
from sprinting obscurity on Saturday to claim Brazil's first
Olympic swimming gold medal in the 50 meters freestyle.

Filho rocketed to an unexpected victory in the splash and
dash in 21.30 seconds, blowing away the field to win by 0.15, a
sizable chunk in the sport's shortest race.

"I'm so so happy, I'm lost for words," said an excited
Filho, who had never won a medal at world level before and
clambered on to the lane rope and roared when he realized he
had won.

"I was so nervous before the race. I did it. It was my best
race ever," added the towering 21-year-old, who broke down in
tears on the victory podium and was mobbed by his Brazilian
teammates on the pool deck after the medal ceremony.

Australian Eamon Sullivan and Frenchman Alain Bernard were
favorites going into the Games having lowered the world
record, which had stood since 2000, four times between them
this year.

Frenchman Amaury Leveaux, who was also a strong contender,
took the silver in 21.45. Bernard, the 100 freestyle gold
medallist, was third in 21.49 with Sullivan an unexpected
sixth.

Filho's winning time at the Water Cube was just 0.02 shy of
Sullivan's world record.

"Today was my lucky day. The sun shone on me. I'm so
overwhelmed with emotion," added Filho, a business student at
Auburn University in Alabama.

Born in Sao Paulo and nicknamed "Big Cesar", Filho has been
impressive in the U.S. collegiate scene and burst onto the
global scene at last year's world championships in Melbourne,
where he was fourth in the 100 freestyle and sixth in the 50
event.

He tied with American Jason Lezak for the 100 freestyle
bronze on Thursday and now believes there is a lot of room for
improvement and promised bigger things to come.

"I gave up a lot for this medal, I never saw my family, but
the hardest things have gone before me," he said.

"I haven't yet achieved the time I am looking for. That's a
secret and when I get it, I'll let you know.

"I will continue to struggle and work hard. This is the
start of many things to come."