At the United States Olympic Swimming Trials, CAELEB DRESSEL touched the wall in his final final – the 50-meter freestyle – and looked up to the large screen, where the number one was flashing next to his name. A huge hug was given to Michael Andrew, the second-place finisher, after he received a warm welcome from him in the water after a smile.
Nathan Adrian, a veteran swimmer who finished third but failed to make the cut for his fourth Olympic Games, swam over to Dressel and hugged him.
This moment in USA Swimming’s history, as well as a glimpse into its present and future, were captured in those two embraces. Dressel, 24, welcomed a first-time Olympian to the team and bid farewell to a long-time member of the United States Olympic Committee.
Dressel is now a seasoned veteran — a captain and a proven leader. In Tokyo, he will compete in seven events, three individual sprints and four relays, in what will be his second Olympic Games. He will be competing in his second Games.
Afterwards, he hugged Adrian and told him that he was “not prepared” to attend the Olympics “without you.” Adrian’s shoes, according to Dressel, were far too big to fill.
“I’m not a big fan of being in the spotlight,” Dressel said in an interview with NBC Sports before the 2021 Olympic trials.
He may or may not enjoy it, and he may or may not be prepared for it, but it is his regardless. Adrian and Ryan Lochte, two mainstays of the team, were unable to make the cut, putting him in the position of leader.
“I want to take everything I’ve learned from Michael [Phelps], Ryan Lochte, and Nathan and apply it to this team’s performance. I want to set an example for others to follow “According to Dressel, who spoke at a pre-Olympics news conference in July.
Dressel has yet to win an individual medal at the Olympics, despite winning two gold medals in the team relays at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. He will have seven chances to win the gold medal at these Olympics. Even if he manages to complete the sweep, he will fall one point short of Michael Phelps’ world record set in Beijing in 2008. If he is able to medal in all of his events, he will become only the fourth swimmer in history to do so in the same competition. The others are Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, and Matt Biondi.
Dressel’s journey at these Games began on Sunday, when he competed in the 4×100 relay team, which took home the gold. A new chapter in his quest to become “The Next Michael Phelps” has begun in earnest.
Even though DRESSEL has never won an individual gold medal at an Olympic Games, the German has been training for this moment for quite some time.
His performances at the NCAA Division I Championships four years ago included breaking the U.S. Open and American records in the 100-meter freestyle and butterfly. At the 2017 Aquatic World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, he won seven gold medals to become only the second swimmer, after Michael Phelps, to win seven gold medals at a single world championship. Phelps, on the other hand, was the other. Dressel was awarded the title of best male swimmer of the competition.
It was at that point in 2017 that the comparisons to Phelps first surfaced. With three gold medals in one night — in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, and 4×100-meter mixed freestyle relay — Dressel became the first person in the history of the world championships or Olympics to accomplish this feat. That wasn’t even done by Phelps.
“The comparisons are probably inevitable,” Dressel said at the time. “But I’m not the same person as Michael.”
When it came to the 2019 World Aquatic Championships, he outdid himself, taking home eight medals (seven gold and one silver) in the process. It was the most medals ever won by a single swimmer at a single championship event. When he competed in the semifinal heat of the 100-meter butterfly, he broke Michael Phelps’ 10-year-old world record by finishing in 49:50, 0.32 seconds faster than Phelps.
The following year, Dressel stated, “It was not easy in ’17, and it was not easy this year.” “I really don’t want it to be easy, and I really don’t want it to be.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dressel, like the majority of athletes, had to adjust his training regimen in 2020. He was forced to stop training at first, and when he was able to resume, he trained on his own — that is, when he was able to find a pool in which to train. Meghan Haila, his high-school sweetheart and a former swimmer, became his wife in June. The couple hiked the Appalachian Trail in order to stay in shape. They also purchased a home in Florida, where Dressel spent his spare time constructing furniture for the space.
The next day, Dressel returned to training and immediately picked up where he had left off. He was still setting world records in the pool. The experience had left him feeling calm and collected, having taught him a lot about himself, his family, and what matters most in life, he explained at the time in his podcast, “The Ben and Caeleb Show.”
DRESSEL is not a newcomer to the spotlight. He competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials as the youngest male swimmer — at the age of 15 — and went up against superstars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, who were both in their prime. He didn’t make it to the finals, but he gained valuable experience in the process. His first Olympic appearance came in 2016 when he finished second to Adrian in the 100-meter freestyle, earning him a spot in his first Games.
At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he assisted Team USA in winning two gold medals in relay events. Dressel swam the first leg of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in 48.10 seconds, which was the second-fastest time recorded by anyone in the first leg of the race. On Saturday, he finished sixth in the 100-meter freestyle, which has now emerged as his most prestigious event.
This time around, he was one of the trials’ most prominent participants. A fan, a young boy who looked and dressed similar to Dressel, approached him after the 100-meter freestyle and asked him to pose for pictures with him. Dressel agreed.
“This has been anything but a straightforward year. This competition is brutal “At the time, he explained. “Unless you’re racing, it’s not really that much fun, but I’m extremely pleased with myself and proud of my accomplishments. It’s not a problem to say that out loud.”
He is now a captain and has arrived in Tokyo. During his transition into this new role, he hopes to channel Phelps’ calmness, Adrian’s calmness, and Lochte’s confidence. In his testimony at the trials, he stated that he has relied on all of them throughout his career, particularly during the pandemic.
As far as his approach to the Olympic trials is concerned, Dressel is prepared — for the limelight, for this moment in time, that is.
He is ready to be the next big name in swimming.