July 1, 2012
AUBURN - On August 16, 2008 a door was seemingly opened in Brazil.
It's the Olympics in Beijing and like most Brazilians; Marcelo Chierighini is glued to the television with his older brother, witnessing history for his country.
Many would say that the world of swimming wasn't very popular in the country of Brazil before Cesar Cielo, the most successful Brazilian swimmer to date, won the first Olympic gold for swimming ever in Brazil's history. Not only did Cesar inspire competitive swimmers, but people that didn't know they had dreams of going to the Olympics until that historical day in August, 2008. People like Marcelo.
"A couple of years ago swimming wasn't that big in Brazil", Chierighini explains. "When Cesar won the gold medal back in 2008, he helped interest grow a lot. He's the reason I wanted to swim."
It's hard to believe that just four years ago, 11-time All American Marcelo Chierighini was not a competitive swimmer. Fast forward four years later and he's headed towards the 2012 Olympics in London. He described swimming as a hobby that he would do with his brother, until trainers started to notice that he was doing exceptionally well.
"My older brother did triathlons. I would always go and he would invite me to swim with him. One day I swam and one of the trainers told me I was very good. I kept doing it, and the next year when Cesar Cielo won the gold medal, I realized it was something I wanted to be serious about. I wanted to win a gold medal."
Chierighini began swimming more competitively and set his sights on Auburn. In fact, he says Cielo is also one of the reasons he wanted to come to Auburn in the first place. Auburn was seen as a huge goal to set for himself, and a great place to improve his natural swimming ability.
"Cesar told me to take a visit just so I could have a better idea of what it was like in America," said Marcelo. "He told me Auburn was small, but the city I'm from in Brazil is small to so I was used to it. I like it here."
Finally on Auburn's campus and ready to reach more of his goals, Chierighini was very impressed with all of the championship banners and the list of Auburn swimmers that have not only competed in the Olympics, but medaled as well. Adjusting to Auburn wasn't the easiest, but he was determined to do what he had to in order to reach his full potential and even join the impressive list of Olympic swimmers.
"In the beginning it was very difficult. I wasn't used to studying and practicing. I got used to it, and being in such a small city helped. I like how small it is and I'm able to focus on my main goal, so it was good for me."
Shortly after arriving in Auburn midseason in 2011 he noticed improvement in his speed and technique. Training under Auburn head coach Brett Hawke helped him to see how realistic his goal of making it to the Olympics was. As a swimmer himself and former coach of Cesar Cielo, Hawke was well qualified to have him moving in the right direction.
As training for the Olympics continues, all the athletes headed for London are busy getting physically and mentally stronger.
"Right now workouts are very intense," said Chierighini. "We are training really hard and pushing each other. I've never trained this hard before."
Chierighini believes his relay has a great shot at medaling in London. With all the intense preparation they've been going through, they also have been enjoying the camaraderie of it all. When asked about how it feels to train with professionals, he described the feeling as special.
"It's a special feeling. Seeing all the past great Auburn swimmers and seeing my name next to them is so special. One day in the future someone will be able to look up and say Marcelo swam in the Olympics."
This five-time Southeastern Conference Champion qualified for the Olympics by finishing second in the 100 freestyle behind former tiger Cielo with a time of 49.05, which is just off his fastest time of 48.79, a mark that ranks him 39th in the world. By virtue of his standing in the 100 free, Chierighini will also swim as part of the Brazilian 4x100 freestyle relay.