With little over 100 days to go until the start of Rio 2016, the brand new Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Barra Olympic Park was put through its paces for the first time during a test event which also served as the Olympic trials for Brazil’s swimmers.
“The main tests concerned elements of the competition area, such as the swimming pool and the starting, timekeeping and results systems,” said Rio 2016 Sports Director Rodrigo Garcia. “There are still some adjustments to be made, but our overall assessment is positive. The pressure increases when there are athletes competing, and there’s no margin for error.”
Around 400 swimmers, the majority from Brazil, took part in the races and the feedback on the venue was generally positive. “It looks great. It looks like it’s from another planet,” said Brandon Almeida, a member of Brazil's 400m medley relay team.
Brazil will be sending its largest ever Olympic swimming team to Rio 2016, however the country’s one and only Olympic gold medallist Cesar Cielo will not be part of it. The 50m and 100m freestyle world record holder could finish no higher than third over the shorter distance
Cielo came in behind race winner Bruno Fratus and 23-year old Ítalo Manzine Duarte, who both later paid tribute to a man they said has inspired them in their careers. Cielo won Olympic gold in the 50m freestyle and bronze in the 100m freestyle at Beijing 2008, and picked up another bronze in the shorter event at London 2012.
Applauded and cheered by an appreciative crowd throughout the poolside interview that followed the race, an emotional Cielo apologised for his performance.
Despite Cielo’s absence, Brazil will still have a powerful team at Rio 2016, with established names such as Thiago Pereira and Joana Maranhão lining up alongside rising stars Larissa Oliveira and Etiene Medeiros, and they should give home fans plenty to cheer.
A 400m medley silver medallist at London 2012, Pereira is expected to challenge the likes of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte at Rio 2016. Having switched to the 200m medley and swapped breathing sides in a bid for more speed, the Brazilian is looking to up his performance levels in the freestyle.
Aside from the American duo, Pereira will also need to keep an eye out for Brazilian team-mate Henrique Rodrigues, with whom he shared the gold in the 200m medley final, the pair both clocking 1:57.91, a single millisecond behind this year’s third-fastest time, set by Michael Phelps.