Almost 11 years ago, at the 2009 World Championships, Cesar Cielo set world records in the 50 and 100 freestyles. Both records, set during what is now called the “super suit era”, have repeatedly stood the test of time. The closest that anyone has gotten to his 20.91 50 free record in textile is the 21.04 American Caeleb Dressel threw down during last year’s World Championships. Similarly, the closest that anyone has gotten to his 46.91 100 freestyle record is 46.96, also by Dressel.
However, now Bruno Fratus, one of Cielo’s former understudies, is saying that his records will fall before the start of the 2021 Olympics. In an interview with the Brazilian site Globo Esporte, when asked about what it would take to medal at the 2021 Olympics, Fratus stated that “It will take a swim below 21 seconds to think of something.” This would be an extremely tough feat, given that only Cielo and Frédérick Bousquet of France have broken the 21-second barrier.
He also said he felt that the World Records will be gone before the Tokyo Olympics.
Fratus has never been under the 21-second barrier, but has been under the 22-second barrier more than any other man in history. He overtook that mantle in the summer of 2018 when he hit his 60th 21-point swim. The prior record holder was none-other-than Cielo himself.
Fratus and Cielo’s careers share an interesting history. For a long period of time, they competed alongside each other, including an Olympic berth together in 2012 where Cielo out-touched Fratus for bronze in the 50 freestyle. Since then, Fratus has outperformed his world-record holding counterpart, securing silver medals at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships in the 50 free, the former with a time of 21.27 that makes him the 10th best performer of all-time. Additionally, he put up his 60th sub-22 50 freestyle at the Mare Nostrum Monaco in 2015 to surpass Cielo for the most sub-22 swims all-time.
Cielo on the other hand, has faced many injuries and setbacks in recent years. After the 2012 Olympics he had to get surgery on both knees and pulled out of a majority of his races at the 2015 World Championships due to a shoulder injury. Although Cielo failed to make the 2016 Olympic team for Brazil, he bounced back to secure an 8th place finish in the 50 freestyle at the 2017 World Championships. Since then, he has remained active, but has stated that he is uncertain of his future in the sport.
Fratus too has dealt with a shoulder injury, undergoing surgery in September of 2018. He bounced back to win silver in the 50 free at the 2019 World Championships.
Going into the 2021 Olympics, Fratus is amongst the medal favorites, including the aforementioned Dressel, who won the World Championship titles in 2017 and 2019, in addition to recently breaking Florent Manaudou’s short course 50m free world record. Additional competitors include Ben Proud of Great Britain, Vladimir Morozov of Russia, and Kristian Gkolomeev of Greece.
FINA recently released a video of Cielo’s 50m freestyle world record swim from the 2009 World Championships in Rome. Included for comparison is a video of the 50m freestyle final from the 2019 World Championships.