Caeleb Dressel is a 22-year-old U.S. swimmer who has the bad luck of being cast as the successor specious to Michael Phelps in the American swim juggernaut. Not surprisingly, he’s excited to keep expectations in check. Fans who want to watch the live-action of Olympic Swimming can get Olympic Swimming Tickets online.
For nearly two eras, the U.S. men’s swimming program rested on the shoulders of Phelps and his longtime rival Ryan Lochte. But Phelps is retired and Lochte, disgraced as a gas station gangster after the 2016 Rio Olympics, just finished a 14-month ban for receiving a prohibited arterial distillation, an offense he accidentally revealed via Instagram. He’s trawling to make his fifth Olympic team at age 35 next summer but is not the multi-medal threat he once was.
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics fast approaching, the sport is looking to crown a new king. Dressel could compete in, and win, as many as eight events in Tokyo—if he can withstand the growing publicity and pressure. He will begin to answer the question at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, beginning Sunday.
Dressel’s path has been different than Phelps’s, who broke his first world record at age 15, turned professional a year later and collected six gold and two bronze medals at two Olympics by age 22. Dressel rose to power in the institutional swimming world.
At the University of Florida, he won 10 individual NCAA titles—more than any other Gator, including Lochte—and holds NCAA records in five individual events regardless of being able to swim only three at any given meet. He didn’t make his first U.S. national team until the summer of 2016.
Dressel cemented himself as the best swimmer to ever compete in a 25-yard pool while competing for Florida, but international meets are contested in longer 50-meter pools. Dressel—who won two Olympic gold medals as part of relays in 2016—proved he could handle the transition with a Phelpsian performance at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest.
“That was almost the seedling when it solidified that Caeleb Dressel was the next big thing,” said Elizabeth Beisel, a now-retired three-time Olympian who trained with the younger sprinter at Florida.
Dressel finished his college career in 2018 by breaking three major time barriers at NCAA Championships in March, turned professional days later, graduated in May and signed his first major confirmation deal with Speedo in mid-July.
“It’s a completely different team environment, a completely different racing schedule, all of those things combined with the added pressure of ‘Wow if I don’t swim fast I don’t get my paycheck,’ ” said Beisel. “I think for Caeleb, he really missed being part of the team, he really missed racing short course because that’s where he succeeds the most.”
Dressel disappointed at U.S. Nationals last July, disclosing after his last race that he had gotten into a minor motorcycle accident week before the meet. At Pan-Pacific Championships in August, his times were shaky again. According to Gregg Troy, his coach at Florida since 2014, such adversity was a necessary preparation for Tokyo2020 Olympic.
Dressel wrote off his summer season as a worthless and tried to break what he called “an ugly downward spiral of self-doubt” at Short Course World Championships in December. He won six gold and three silver medals, a presentation he saw as subpar.
“A lot of people would say it’s not that bad, but I’m like ‘No, it was horrible because it’s not what I wanted,’. With the benefit of six months of replication he continued, I am pretty hard on myself, it really stays that bad of a meet.”
Dressel is the fastest in the world this year in the 100 butterflies and has at times also topped the world in the 50 and 100 freestyles. He’s a gold-medal favorite in each race, both this summer in Gwangju and next in Tokyo 2020.
Dressel could add one more specific event, likely the 200-meter freestyle or 200-meter individual medley, depending on the meet schedule of U.S. Olympic Trials next June.
Because he shines at the short races, Dressel is a more valuable relay swimmer than Phelps and Lochte. He could swim as many as five relays in Gwangju. He’ll have at least one less relay in Tokyo, as the 4×100-meter mixed freestyle relay is not an Olympic 2020 Game event.
In Tokyo 2020 Olympic, he will have eight possible events—and eight possible medals. It’s a long shot, but it’s not totally crazy to think they could all be gold. If Dressel pulls it off, he would match Phelps’s record pull from the 2008 Beijing Games, a feat many thought would be repeated never, let alone three Olympic cycles later.
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