César Augusto Cielo Filho is a Brazilian Olympic Gold medal swimmer who specializes in the sprint freestyle events. Cielo is widely considered the most successful Brazilian swimmer in history, having won three Olympic medals, including the only gold medal in Brazil’s swimming history, as well as six individual gold medals at the World Swimming Championships and having set two world records in the process. Cielo owns the long course world records in the 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle. In addition to his world records, Cielo also claimed the NCAA records in the 50-yard freestyle (18.47) and in the 100-yard freestyle (40.92), becoming NCAA Swimmer of the Year for the second year in a row. Cielo has maintained the NCAA record in the 50-yard freestyle, while Russian swimmer Vladimir Morozov broke the 100-yard freestyle mark (40.76) in 2013 while competing for Coach Dave Salo at the University of Southern California.
César Cielo was the first of two children born to parents César and Flávia Cielo in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste of the province São Paulo, Brazil on January 10, 1987. Cielo’s father was a practicing pediatrician while his mother was a physical education teacher, creating an environment where Cielo began to learn about how his body moves from a young age. As a young teenager, Cielo trained under Coach Mario Francisco Sobrinho at the Esporte Clube Barbarense, where his mother taught swimming. When he was 13 years old, Cielo began to train in Piracicaba at the Clube de Campo de Piracicaba under Coach Reinaldo Rosa. At 16 years old, Cielo transferred to Esporte Clube Pinheiros in São Paulo to train under Coach Alberto Silva and four-time Olympic medalist, Gustavo Borges. In 2004, Cielo became the fastest swimmer in Brazil’s 15-16 age group and went on to win bronze at the 2004 FINA World Short Course Championships swimming the leadoff leg of the Brazilian 400-meter freestyle relay team. Later in 2005, Cielo graduated from Colegio Avanco de Ensino Programado and accepted a scholarship to swim at Auburn University located in Auburn, Alabama of the United States. While at Auburn, Cielo swam under coaches David Marsh, Richard Quick and Brett Hawke. Hawke is credited as having been Cielo’s primary coach in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, where Cielo won Olympic gold in the 50-meter freestyle. His academic focus included studies on international business and trade with a specialization in Spanish. Cielo retains his titles as the South American record holder in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle relay and 400-meter medley relay.
During his freshman year, Cielo played a prominent role in helping Auburn win the team title. Individually, Cielo swam to the top seed in the preliminaries of the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 19.20, but settled for sixth place after posting a 19.37 in the final. In the 100-yard freestyle, Cielo swam the second fastest preliminary time of 42.60, but even while dropping his time to 42.58 seconds, Cielo ended up taking fourth place overall behind Garrett Weber-Gale (42.11), Benjamin Wildman-Tobriner (42.17) and Simon Burnett (42.54). In the relays, Cielo was the leadoff leg on the National Champion 200-yard freestyle relay, splitting 19.51. On his second relay swim, Cielo split a 42.13 as anchor of the runner-up 400-yard medley relay. Additionally, Cielo swam to a speedy 42.02 in the 400-yard freestyle relay, helping Auburn take second place. Cielo also participated in the preliminaries of the 200-yard medley relay as the freestyle leg, making that a total of six All-America honors in his first NCAA Championship meet. Earlier in the season, Cielo captured six SEC titles to tie for the most ever won by a male in one season at the conference meet. Of his six titles, Cielo collected two individual honors in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events with times of 19.49 and 43.00, respectively. Cielo also swam on all four winning relays at SECs, including the 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relay as well as the 200-yard and 400-yard medley relay. Impressively, Cielo owned the fastest splits of the entire championship field on each of the four relays.
Cielo improved upon his first-year success, winning the title of NCAA Swimmer of the Year along with his five NCAA titles. At the NCAA Championships held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Cielo earned the title as fastest swimmer in the world after posting a new NCAA record time of 18.69 seconds while winning the 50-yard freestyle. Cielo backed up this distinction with another victory in the 100-yard freestyle with a NCAA record time of 41.17 seconds. In his third event, Cielo clocked a 48.23, good enough for 16th place overall. In addition to his individual success, Cielo swam on the NCAA champion 200-yard freestyle relay (18.59; 1:14.71), the 400-yard freestyle relay (40.74; 2:46.56) and 200-yard medley relay (18.42; 1:23.37) teams that set new NCAA records. Cielo also swam on the third-place 400-yard medley relay team (41.03; 3:06.09). Prior to the NCAA Championships, Cielo defended his SEC Championship titles in the 50-yard freestyle (19.03) and 100-yard freestyle (41.85) while also swimming on the winning 200-yard freestyle, 400-yard freestyle and 400-yard medley relay teams. Cielo’s third individual event was the 200-yard freestyle, in which he finished fourth with a time of 1:36.18.
Cielo swam in a highly successful junior season that would prove to be his third and final collegiate swim season for Auburn. Individually, Cielo was once again untouchable. Cielo won the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle in NCAA record times of 18.52 and 40.92 seconds, respectively. In his third event, Cielo placed 15th with a time of 47.56 seconds. In the team relays, Cielo again enjoyed a high degree of success, helping Auburn win the 200-yard freestyle (18.47; 1:15.66) and the 200-yard medley relays (18.19; 1:23.24) in NCAA record fashion. Cielo was also essential in helping Auburn place ninth in the 400-yard medley relay (41.97; 3:08.60) and second in the 400-yard freestyle relay (41.12; 2:49.48).
In three years of eligibility, Cielo garnered 20 All-America honors and won four individual national titles. In 2014, Cielo remains the NCAA and U.S. Open record-holder in the 50-yard freestyle (18.47).
National and International Swimming
In October of 2004, Cielo participated in his first major international competition, the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships hosted in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the young age of 17 years old, Cielo teamed with Thiago Pereira, Christiano Santos and Nicholas Santos to win the silver medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay with a time of 3:12.73, as well as finishing fourth in the 4×100-meter medley relay. By teaming with Brazilian compatriots Guilherme Guido, Kaio Almeida and Eduardo Fischer, Cielo broke the South American record with a time of 3:33.02. Individually, Cielo also finished sixth in the 100-meter freestyle (48.77) 10th in the 50-meter freestyle (22.06) and 19th in the 50-meter backstroke (25.99).
In April of 2006, Cielo competed in the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships, once again, this time hosted in Shanghai, China. In this competition, Cielo improved to record a fifth place finish in the 100-meter freestyle, touching in with a time of 48.04, only .17 away from winning a medal. Cielo also competed in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, touching in fifth place overall with a split of 47.89, as well as the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, where he broke the South American record with a team time of 7:06:09 and an individual split of 1:46.09.
Later, in August of 2006, Cielo competed at the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships, where he placed sixth in the 50-meter freestyle (22.45) and seventh in the 100-meter freestyle (49.66). Cielo also participated in the 4×100-meter freestyle and medley relays, helping the medley relay place seventh by splitting a 49.25 as the anchor, while the freestyle relay was disqualified for a false start in the final.
In December of 2006, Cielo posted a time of 48.61 in the 100-meter freestyle to break Fernando Scherer’s long-standing South American record of 48.69. The record had stood since 1998, and the time was ranked fourth fastest in the world at that moment.
In March of 2007, Cielo competed at the FINA World Championships, hosted in Melbourne, Australia. Cielo worked toward a sixth place finish in the 50-meter freestyle (22.12) and a fourth place finish in the 100-meter freestyle (48.51), while also helping Brazil’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay finish eighth overall with a new South American record of 3:17.03. The 4×100-meter medley relay team would take ninth place overall. The fourth place in the 100-meter freestyle established a new South American record in the event, and was only .04 seconds behind Australia’s bronze medalist, Eamon Sullivan, and .08 seconds behind Filippo Magnini and Brent Hayden, who tied for first place overall. Cielo’s 50-meter freestyle time of 22.09 in the semi-final race broke Fernando Scherer’s South American record from 1998.
In July of 2007, Cielo competed at the Pan American Games held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and he brought his country great pride by setting Pan-American Games Records in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, as well as the 400-meter freestyle relay. Cielo took gold in the 50-meter freestyle with a time of 21.84, while his 100-meter freestyle clocked in at 48.79. In the relay, Cielo anchored the gold medal-winning team with a time of 48.18 seconds, second only to USA’s Ricky Berens, helping Brazil set a new South American record time of 3:15.90. Additionally, Cielo helped Team Brazil earn a silver medal with a freestyle split of 47.80 in the 400-meter medley relay, also setting a new South American record in the event.
In November of 2007, Cielo broke the short-course South American record for the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 47.00 seconds at the Italy Grand Prix.
In February of 2008, at the Missouri Grand Prix, Cielo improved his South American record of the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 48.49 seconds.
In April of 2008, at the Ohio Grand Prix, he again broke his record with a time of 48.34 seconds, defeating Michael Phelps in the race.
In July of 2008, only one month before the Beijing Olympics, Cielo continued to lower his South American record time in the 50-meter freestyle with a new time of 21.75 seconds.
2008 Summer Olympics
In Beijing, China, Cielo again made his mark on history, where he broke the 100-meter freestyle Americas record as the leadoff leg of the 4×100-meter freestyle preliminary heats with a time of 47.91 seconds. Although the Brazilian team was disqualified, Cielo’s record was allowed to stand. In the individual 100-meter freestyle, Cielo earned a spot in the final as the eighth fastest swimmer with a time 48.07 seconds. In the final, Cielo won his first Olympic bronze medal with a South American record time of 47.67 seconds, tied with American swimmer Jason Lezak. Cielo and Lezak finished behind France’s gold medalist, Alain Bernard, who raced to a 47.21 seconds, and Australia’s Eamon Sullivan, who took home the silver with a time of 47.32 seconds. In the 50-meter freestyle preliminaries, Cielo broke the Olympic record set in 1992 by sprint legend, Alexander Popov. In the semifinals, Cielo dropped that record to 21.34 seconds, and he further lowered his record in the finals with a time of 21.30 seconds. Cielo won the gold medal, becoming Brazil’s first Olympic swim champion, narrowly missing the world record by .02 seconds. Until 2008, Brazil’s best Olympic swimming finish was a silver medal, which occurred in 1984, 1992 and 1996. In 1984, Ricardo Prado won silver in the 400-meter medley at Los Angeles; in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Gustavo Borges won the silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle; and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Borges again won second place but this time in the 200-meter freestyle.
In May of 2009, Cielo broke the South American record in the 50-meter butterfly with a time of 23.42 seconds as well as a new South American record in the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 47.60 seconds.
At the 2009 U.S. Short Course World Championship Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana, Cielo was relegated to the consolation final of the 50-meter freestyle due to his foreign status, but he still swam to a final time of 21.14 seconds, which was the fastest time among all competitors and set a new Americas record. It was also the second fastest time in the event’s history, only .20 seconds behind Frenchman Frederick Bousquet’s world record of 20.94 seconds.
2009 World Aquatics Championships
In Rome, Italy, Cielo led the Brazilian 4×100-meter freestyle relay to a fourth place finish. Leading off with a time of 47.09 seconds, Cielo set the new South American and Championship record, only .04 seconds behind Eamon Sullivan’s world record. Individually, Cielo won the gold medal, defeating the reigning Olympic champion Alain Bernard while breaking Sullivan’s world record with a time of 46.91 seconds. In the 50-meter freestyle final, Cielo defeated world record holder Frédérick Bousquet and won the gold medal with a time of 21.08 seconds, bettering the World Championships record and the Americas record. In the 4×100-meter medley relay, Cielo led Brazil to a time better than the previous world record, set by the Americans at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but Brazil could only muster a fourth place finish.
In December of 2009, Cielo broke the World Record in the 50-meter freestyle with a time of 20.91 seconds at a championship competition hosted by Esporte Clube Pinheiros in São Paolo. It was the last official event with the use of the technology super-suits in Brazil.
In 2010, Cielo changed clubs, signing with Flamengo, which was under the chairmanship of former swimmer Patricia Amorim and had the mission of contributing to the strengthening of swimming in Rio de Janeiro and in Brazil. On June 27, 2010, Cielo became the first swimmer in the world to break Alexander Popov’s world record in the 50-meter freestyle without the help of the technological swimsuits. At the Paris Open, Cielo earned the mark of 21.55 seconds wearing only jammers.
2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships
In Irvine, California, Cielo earned gold in the 50-meter butterfly with a new championships record time of 23.03 seconds, but ended up with a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle (21.55) and bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle (48.48). Nathan Adrian won the 50-meter title (21.53) and both Adrian (48.15) and Brent Hayden (48.19) beat Cielo in the 100-meter race.
In September of 2010, at the Jose Finkel Trophy, Cielo broke the 100-meter freestyle South American record with a time of 45.87 seconds in the final.
In December of 2010, at the 2010 FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships held in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, Cielo teamed with Nicholas Santos, Nicolas Oliveira and Marcelo Chierighini to win a spot on the elusive podium, earning a bronze medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay with a time of 3:05.74, setting a South American record. Additionally, Cielo led the Brazilian 4×100-meter medley relay team to the bronze medal, with Guilherme Guido, Felipe Franca Silva and Kaio de Almeida combining to break the South American record in a time of 3:23.12. In the 50-meter freestyle, Cielo twice broke the Americas record, doing 20.61 seconds in the preliminary heats, and winning the gold medal with a time of 20.51 seconds in the finals. This time represented the new Americas and World Championship meet record, only .21 seconds slower than Roland Schoeman’s world record. In the 100-meter freestyle, Cielo also won the gold with a time of 45.74 seconds, setting the new South American and World Championship meet record. With that victory, Cielo successfully claimed the world titles of the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events in both the long course and short course formats.
Positive Test / Doping
In May of 2011, Cielo encountered unforeseen troubles as he tested positive for the banned substance furosemide, which is a diuretic often used to help lose weight, but is also a masking agent which may hide the presence of other drugs. Cielo was one of four Brazilian swimmers who tested positive for the substance and was given a warning by Brazil’s national swimming federation. Cielo claimed the positive drug test was a result of a cross-contamination. FINA appealed Cielo’s case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which kept the warning for Cielo. The Court claimed that a caffeine supplement had been contaminated to bring about the failed drug test, and explained that they had become convinced that the furosemide found was not aimed to improve athletic performance or to mask the use of some other substance capable of improving performance.
The Court’s decision allowed Cielo to compete in the 2011 World Swimming Championships in Shanghai, China, generating controversy among Cielo’s competitors. Most notably, Kenyan swimmer Jason Dunford displayed a “thumbs down” to cameras after Cielo’s victory in the 50-meter butterfly race (23.10) in which Dunford finished seventh. Later in the competition, Cielo won gold in the 50-meter freestyle (21.52) but took fourth in the 100-meter freestyle. In the 100-meter freestyle, Cielo finished with a time of 48.01 seconds, .01 seconds away from bronze and .06 seconds away from silver. The winner was James Magnussen with a time of 47.63 seconds.
2011 Pan American Games
In Guadalajara, Mexico, Cielo dominated to the tune of four gold medals, one in each the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events, as well as in the 4×100-meter freestyle and medley relays. In the process, Cielo broke the Pan American Games records in the 50-meter freestyle (21.58), 100-meter freestyle (47.84) and in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay (3:14.65).
In 2011, Cielo announced the creation of P.R.O. 16 – “Going for 2016 Gold” Project. The initiative was designed to serve Brazil’s elite swimming squad, including André Schultz, Leonardo de Deus, Nicholas Santos, Henrique Rodrigues, Tales Cerdeira and Vinicius Waked. All were selected because of their potential to medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The program seemed to work for two years without relying on the infrastructure of big clubs, but the difficulty in finding sponsors forced the training group to lose almost all of its members.
In April of 2012, Cielo had success while participating in the Maria Lenk Trophy in Rio de Janeiro, finishing the 50-meter freestyle race in 21.38 seconds, and breaking the Americas record in the 50-meter butterfly with a time of 22.76 seconds. The previous record was held by Brazilian teammate, Nicholas Santos, with a time of 22.87 seconds.
2012 London Olympics
Cielo was disappointed to finish sixth in the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 47.92 seconds. The gold went to American Nathan Adrian (47.52 seconds), followed by Australia’s James Magnussen (47.53 seconds) and Canada’s Brent Hayden (47.80 seconds). In the 50-meter freestyle, Cielo was favored to win the gold and ranked tied for first in the semifinal with American Cullen Jones with a time of 21.54 seconds, but in the final Cielo finished with a slower time than that of the semifinals. Still, Cielo earned his third Olympic medal with a time of 21.59. The winner was Frenchman Florent Manaudou with a time of 21.34 seconds and the silver medal went to Cullen Jones (21.54). Even though he was unable to win, Cielo’s time of 21.30 seconds from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games continued as the Olympic Record.
At the end of 2012, Cielo had surgery on both of his knees. Since 2007, the Brazilian suffered with patellar tendinitis in both knees. Then, Cielo’s club team, Flamengo, elected new leadership in 2012. This new leadership decided not to follow Amorim’s plans, and Cielo left the club in February 2013 to return to training with his former coach, Brett Hawke in Auburn, Alabama. He elected to sit out the 2012 World Short Course Championships.
World Swimming Championships
In 2013 Cielo traveled to Barcelona, Spain to once again compete at the World Short Course Swimming Championships in the 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter butterfly just a few months after his knee surgery. Cielo posted the second fastest time in the world with a time of 21.57 seconds, and he also qualified for the 50-meter butterfly. However, due to his knee operations, Cielo relinquished his spot to swim the 100-meter freestyle and the Brazilian relays. Cielo successfully defended his title as champion of the 50-meter butterfly with a time of 23.01 seconds. In the 50-meter freestyle, Cielo posted a textile-suit best time of 21.32 seconds, becoming the first three-time World Champion of the event. It was Cielo’s sixth gold medal in individual events at the World Championships, supplanting Alexander Popov as the sprinter with the most individual gold medals in World Championship history. Only four male swimmers won more gold individual medals in World Championships than Cielo: Aaron Peirsol (7), Grant Hackett (7), Ryan Lochte (9) and Michael Phelps (15).
South American Swimmer of the Year Honorable Mention
In 2014 the Swammy Awards rewarded Cielo with a South American Male Swimmer of the Year Honorable Mention after a successful World Championships in Doha. Cielo skipped the Pan Pacific Championships this year in order to focus on the World Championships. His adjustment paid off because he won gold in the 100m freestyle, which was Blueseventy’s Swim of the Week, and then posted an impressive split in the distance when he anchored the winning 400m medley relay. Later on the meet he also picked up a bronze medal in the 50m freestyle and the 200m freestyle relay. Earlier in the year Cielo chose to compete in the French Open for his last long course meet of the season, not posting his fastest time, but picked up the gold.
Using 2015 to gear up for Rio
After knee surgery and more international competitions, 2015 ended up being a huge year for Cielo – he and his girlfriend, Kelly Gisch, announced that they are expecting a child together. Cielo also changed training strategies heading into Rio by choosing to swim with Coach Arilson Soares down in Sao Paulo. He also surrounded himself with a fully equipped staff, a six-person team complete with a nutritionist and physiologists. With his new surroundings Cielo started off 2015 at the Belo Horizonte at the Torneio Metropolitano by winning the 50m butterfly, and posting the world’s fastest time. Similar to 2014 Cielo pulled out of the Pan Am Games as the only Brazilian National Teamer not to attend. Instead he’s chosen to focus on the World Championships in Kazan, which nearly overlapped with the year’s Pan Am Games. Up north in the U.S., Cielo travelled to North Carolina to swim at the Arena Pro Swim Series. Cielo struck headlines with a ripped suit, but the event didn’t phase him when he continued on to win his heat in the 100m butterfly. He also popped a great 50m time, after which he let media know his confidence going into Rio.
Despite a big year in 2015, Cielo failed to make the Olympic games in his home country.
2017 World Championships
Cielo was back in action for the Brazilian team at the World Championships. On the opening night he won a silver medal in the 400 meter freestyle relay. It was a historic moment for Brazil as it was the highest medal in the event the country had ever won. Cielo along with Bruno Fratus, Marcelo Chiefighini and Gabriel Santos the quartet broke the South American record in 3:10.34.
In the 50 meter freestyle Cielo made the final, finishing 8th in 21.83.
2018 Short Course World Championships
In Hangzhou, what was touted as potentially the last meet of Cielo’s career, he anchored Brazil to 2 bronze medals in the 4×100 free and 4×50 medley relays. After the meet, Cielo said he was uncertain if he would be retiring or not.
Originally developed by Doug Lennox II