BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Hail Cesar! Hail the next big thing in the swimming sprints. And hail that veteran swimmer from Trinidad who finally got a medal in the one-lap splash and dash.
There was plenty to celebrate after the foam-filled 50-meter freestyle at the world championships Saturday.
Cesar Cielo extended his reign with a third consecutive world title, 21-year-old Vladimir Morozov took silver to confirm his status as a sprinter to watch in the years ahead, and four-time Olympian George Bovell grabbed bronze for his first medal at a long-course worlds after a decade of fruitless attempts.
Cielo had surgery on both knees at the end of last year and only returned to full-speed training a few months ago. At one point he wondered whether he would even compete at these worlds.
Well, compete he did, as this title followed another gold in the 50 fly at the beginning of the week.
As has become his custom, the Brazilian cried uncontrollably during the playing of his national anthem as all the pain and hard work of the past year came rushing back to him.
"I started to doubt myself, that I could get back and swim here," Cielo said. "It was amazing. I had one of the best races in my life in the final. For me it was a redemption moment. I just put everything from last year, that bitter feeling, behind me."
Cielo clocked 21.32 seconds, Morozov touched in 21.47 and Bovell finished in 21.51.
The medalists swam in lanes 6, 7 and 8, respectively — while the top qualifiers struggled.
In a star-studded final, Nathan Adrian of the U.S. managed only fourth, reigning Olympic champion Florent Manaudou was fifth, and American veteran Anthony Ervin finished sixth.
Cielo celebrated wildly, screaming and pumping his fists while straddling a lane rope, then splashing the water with his fist.
Morozov was also ecstatic. He swept the 50 and 100 free at last year's short-course worlds in Istanbul but this was his first individual medal at a long-course worlds.
Does this mean he's the real deal?
"I think so. Yes," he said, quite confidently. "I mean in that heat there were Olympic champions, world champions, and I came away with the silver medal so I'm really happy with that."
After the race, Morozov met Alexander Popov for the first time. The former Russian sprinting great presented the medals.
"He told me some war stories and told me I was going in the right direction," recounted Morozov, who immigrated to California when he was 14 and is still based in Los Angeles.
Morozov also won a bronze medal for Russia in the 4x100 free relay, and he was first at the turn of the 100 free individual event before fading to sixth.
While the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are Morozov's main goal, he also wants to shine at the 2015 worlds in Kazan, Russia.
"In 2015 I will do my best so that nobody is close to me," he said.
Bovell, meanwhile, was wondering before this race if he would have the motivation to continue racing through to Rio. He recalled leaving empty-handed from the last worlds in Barcelona a decade ago.
"I just turned 30 and when you get to my age there is pressure to grow up, so to speak," he said. "I was afraid that if I came and didn't have a successful meet there would be more pressure to move on with my life. And I love swimming. I was afraid of losing it, of not being able to justify the lifestyle. You don't make a lot of money swimming.
"I am very grateful that this medal justifies that all the effort pays off," Bovell added. "I wanted to swim in Rio and now I intend to.'"