Cielo Has Superstar Performance at NCAA Meet

Auburn junior Cesar Cielo is the world's fastest swimmer, but the Tigers have plenty of work to do to defend their NCAA title.

Federal Way, Wash.--Auburn's Cesar Cielo was a superstar on opening night at the 2008 NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships, but his defending champion Tigers are in fourth place after day one of three days of competition.

The Tigers had a disappointing preliminary session and scored 97 points on Thursday. Arizona is in first with 137 followed by Texas with116 and Cal with 112. Stanford is fifth with 93 points. Auburn is trying to win a sixth straight national championship.

With Cielo swimming the opening leg of the opening event, the 200-yard freestyle relay, he set an NCAA record with a sizzling time of 18.46 in the 50-yard freestyle that makes him the world's fastest swimmer.

Later in the evening, Cielo won the 50 freestyle in a time of 18.52, easily defending his title in the event and winning by more than a half second. His teammate, senior Alexei Puninski, swam a personal-best time of 19.38 to finish fourth.

"It was crazy, Cielo said after opening the competition on Thursday night his impressive time to open the relay. "Brett (AU assistant coach Brett Hawke) gave me a piece of paper before the race and told me not to open it until after the race and I opened it and it said 18.47. It was great.

"I felt great in the water today and it's a great start to the meet in winning the relay," he said. "It is our tradition we win the relay every year and we are keeping the tradition alive."

Joining Cielo and Puninski on the 200 freestyle relay were seniors Luke Weniger and Scott Goodrich as the group swam its best time of the season as Auburn won the event for the third straight year at the national championship meet.

"That was huge," senior co-captain Goodrich said of the relay victory. "We had a little bit of a rough morning (prelims), but to come back and win that just pumps everybody up. We are ready to rip now."

By winning the two events on Thursday night, Cielo has won eight NCAA races, one shy of the school record set by Hawke from 1997-99.

"I've just been trying to go faster and faster and not think about time and then it just happened, you know," Cielo says. "I have two of my best performances and I'm really happy. I could not be happier about my results and my team and I think we're definitely ready to go the next few days."

In the history of the 50 freestyle, there have been 13 swims that were under 19 seconds. Cielo is personally responsible nine of those.

"After the disappointment of not getting our 400 medley relay in the championship final this morning, I thought the team bounced back real well and swam really hard tonight," said Auburn coach Richard Quick. "Of course, Cesar was amazing in the 200 freestyle relay leadoff and the 50 freestyle, absolutely amazing.

"When you break the NCAA record in the 50 freestyle by more than two tenths of a second, that is an extraordinary swim," said Quick. "What is becoming apparent is that he is so good that everybody just expects him to swim extraordinarily fast and that is the sign of a great, great athlete when people look for you to be that fast every time."

Commenting on the team race, Quick said, "We simply have to come in and perform in the morning, put some people in the championship final and try to scramble back into this meet one event at a time."

In the second relay of the opening night, Auburn finished first in the consolation finals of the 400 medley relay as Kohlton Norys, Michael Silva, Puninski and Cielo took ninth place points with a time of 3:08.60.

Competition at the event will run through Saturday night.

In the one-meter springboard diving, Kelly Marx was 14th and Dan Mazzaferro 16th to combine to score four points for the Tigers. Diving coach Jeff Shaffer is expecting better performances from the sophomores in the three-meter springboard and 10-meter platform events.


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