Captain of the US swim team, Caeleb Dressel is a fitting heir to the legendary Michael Phelps. He is barely 25 years old and has already been crowned world champion 13 times, he hopes to achieve six gold medals in Tokyo.
Dressel is off to a good start. On Wednesday he easily qualified for the final of the 100m, which takes place in Tokyo on Thursday morning. Two days earlier, he led the US team to gold in the 4x100m relay. He was quick to hand over the medal to his teammate Brooks Curry, whom he replaced in the final – a clear sign that Dressel expects many more medals to come his way.
TOKYO — Caeleb Dressel swam the first leg of the 4x100m freestyle men’s relay at lightning speed. He gave the US a lead that he never gave up, and less than an hour later he stepped to a podium to receive his first gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics.
Nice throw pic.twitter.com/WQrHHqXMva
— Dr. Jeff Rabinowitz (@rxjef77) July 26, 2021
Just a few weeks before his 25th birthday, the rising American star is determined to make his mark at the Tokyo Games. It is not his first time at the Olympics: in 2016 he won gold twice in the relay (4×100m freestyle and 4×100m medley). This time he is aiming for six: three in individual races (the 100m freestyle, an Olympic highlight, plus the 100m butterfly and 50m) and three in relay (4x100m freestyle, medley and mixed medley). During the marathon run, he will participate every day this week.
Only two swimmers in Olympic history have won more medals: Michael Phelps, of course, with eight titles in as many races in Beijing in 2008 and Mark Spitz with seven titles in Munich in 1972.
Event after event, he just ‘goes on’
Dressel has shown over the past four years that he is cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. At the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, he broke through with seven gold medals, equaling the record set by Phelps a decade earlier. In Gwangju, South Korea, he retired at six in 2019, but also claimed two silver medals for a total of eight – unprecedented in a world championship. In addition, he claimed a world record in the 100-meter butterfly, which robbed Phelps of the title, as well as in the 50 meters (21.04 seconds) and 100 meters (46.96, the first under 47 seconds without a technical suit).
As inevitable as the comparisons are, Dressel would rather not be compared to Michael Phelps. Instead, he points to icons outside the pool, such as American football and baseball player Bo Jackson.
“He was a pure athlete and he didn’t limit himself. I love that about him,” Dressel told USA Today in 2013. “I also look up to Muhammad Ali. I watch videos of him on YouTube all the time. He knew he wouldn’t lose, and he was very verbal about it.”
If Dressel exudes the same confidence, it is not without reason. At 1.90 m tall and weighing 89 kg, his athletic prowess is undeniable.
“There are no words to describe how fast [he] is,” said Joseph Schooling of Singapore after finishing second to Dressel in Budapest in 2017.
“I got a kick in the butt,” continued Schooling, the reigning Olympic champion in the 100m butterfly. “There’s really no other way to say that.” Outside of the record-breaking times, he added: “I’m more impressed with how… [Dressel] can swim event after event and just keep going.”
The American champion, who started swimming at the age of five, also plays soccer and American football.
“I think it’s important for young swimmers to try other sports,” Dressel said in a recent interview for one of his sponsors. “I never wanted to pigeonhole myself. But whatever you do, whatever you are good at, make sure you enjoy it.”
‘He’s a good guy’
Throughout, Dressel has stuck to his principles. His muscular physique and boyish looks haven’t given him a shortage of commercials, but he is said to have kept his head on his shoulders and led a no-nonsense life close to nature. He married his high school sweetheart Meghan in February and loves taking pictures with his pets.
“He’s a super simple guy,” Florent Manaudou, one of his rivals in the 50m freestyle, told RMC Sport. “I used to always have something to hate with my rivals, like Cesar Cielo, who annoyed me. With Caeleb there’s nothing like that – he’s really respectful and so it’s much more complicated. He’s a good guy, a very respectful swimmer, very talented and very well rounded.”
Dressel always arrives at races with a blue bandana in hand – a memento of his teacher and mentor Claire McCool, who died of cancer in 2017.
“It’s the most important thing in my life for a physical object,” he told Swimming World magazine the following year. “It’s just nice to physically carry her behind the blocks. She’s with me every race and will be until I finish my career.”
With this poolside lucky charm, Dressel will start his most watched race on Thursday: the 100m freestyle, where he will face not only the reigning champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia, but also Italy’s Thomas Ceccon – who finished first in qualifying – and a host of other close rivals, including young Romanian David Popovici and Russian Kliment Kolesnikov.
Dressel will mainly focus on herself.
“It may be a cliché, but I hate standing still,” he told the French sports outlet l’Equipe. “I always want to move forward. My biggest fear is reaching a plateau. And the harder it is, the more I learn.”
This article has been adapted from the original in French.