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Dressel spearheads gold rush

Caeleb Dressel of the United States after winning the 100m butterfly final on Saturday in a time that was only four-hundredths of a second off the world record.
Caeleb Dressel of the United States after winning the 100m butterfly final on Saturday in a time that was only four-hundredths of a second off the world record.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The dominant male swimmer in Hungary says he does not put himself on a pedestal

The joke making its rounds over the weekend within the United States swim team was that the World Championships in Budapest had been renamed the Caeleb Dressel Invitational.

Facetious perhaps, but it is hard to argue with the facts. There were 42 events held during the eight-day meet and the 20-year-old American could finish with golds in seven of them - he was set to swim in the 4x100m medley late last night, in which the US were heavy favourites - thereby matching the previous championships record set by Michael Phelps in Melbourne in 2007.

"The comparisons are probably inevitable," Dressel, whose only blemish was a fourth in the 50m butterfly, said on Saturday. "But I'm not the same person as Michael."

The similarities are hard to ignore, though. Both have long torsos (the 1.91m Dressel is 2cm shorter) and powerful physiques seemingly created to cruise on water.

Even Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling saw traits of his idol Phelps in Dressel, his former club-mate at Bolles School in Florida. Dressel had a packed schedule in Hungary and participated in at least 15 races (possibly 16 if he was involved in last night's men's 4x100m medley) races in total.

Speaking after he won a bronze in the 100m fly final but finished almost a second behind Dressel's winning time of 49.86sec, Schooling said: "Caeleb's times were great but I'm more impressed by how he can swim event after event and just keep going. That's something we saw from Michael in 2008 (at the Beijing Olympics, where Phelps won eight golds)."

It remains to be seen if Dressel, who won two Olympic golds in Rio (4x100m freestyle and medley relay), can have the longevity and a similar impact as Phelps at the Summer Games but the University of Florida student has left his mark on these World Championships.

MANAGING THE PRESSURE

Caeleb's incredible. It's so impressive how he goes about race to race, medal ceremony to medal ceremony (and then) has another race in about two minutes.

KATIE LEDECKY, the US swimmer who has amassed a record 14 world titles since her debut at Barcelona in 2013.

His three-gold haul (50m free, 100m fly and 4x100m mixed free) on Saturday was the first time anyone had won three titles in a day, and all in the span of about two hours.

No wonder five-time Olympic champion, Katie Ledecky, the most bemedalled female world champion with a total of 14 titles, was gushing about her team-mate.

She told The Straits Times: "Caeleb's incredible. It's so impressive how he goes about race to race, medal ceremony to medal ceremony (and then) has another race in about two minutes."

Swedish star Sarah Sjostrom, who last week broke the 50m and 100m freestyle world records, is also full of admiration, saying: "He took a really big step this year as we can see. It's really cool to see."

At the Fina meet, Dressel notched personal bests in the 50m free (21.15sec), 100m free (47.17sec) and 100m fly (49.86sec) which are the fastest, third-fastest and fastest times in a textile suit respectively.

Dressel, whose regular pre-race routine while on the pool deck is to kneel and pray in order to calm himself, said: "I don't think there are really any accidents in this sport. It wasn't an accident what happened tonight (Saturday). I worked well with (Florida head coach Gregg) Troy and we were ready for it."

That was clear to see. A video clip of the US team after the race showed that they were not celebrating his victory. Instead, they were waiting to see if he had broken Phelps' world record. And their disappointment was revealed when the scoreboard showed that he had missed it by 0.04sec.

Hours of sweat and sacrifice in the gym were key ingredients to his success, coupled with Dressel's natural athleticism. He dunks a basketball easily in one Instagram video while in another, performs gruelling Olympic lifts.

Watching him lift those 120kg weights was impressive, said Julien Jacquier, a coach from the France swim team.

"He's just so powerful and that helps him a lot. We studied the videos. It takes him six dolphin kicks to reach the 15m mark while most swimmers need eight or nine kicks," he noted.

"The US team also manage him very well and limit his media interviews. If he has another event, he goes straight for it and never comes to the mixed zone. That keeps him focused."

A strong body requires an even stronger mind, said American swim legend Mark Spitz. And Dressel, who stopped swimming for six months in 2014 after mental burnout before returning re-energised and hungrier than ever, has that too now.

Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Olympics, said: "The boy's tough and he knows how to win. The 100m free final was a great example. He swam hard and no one could catch him. He's going to be special."

Phelps and Spitz have been the sport's leading icons and when asked what it would be like to be ranked alongside them, Dressel said: "I wouldn't put myself in that group yet. I'm still getting my feet wet and still swimming. I'm not counting medals at this point."

After all, he has an online algebra exam today to worry about. The rest of the swimming world already know the maths.

One Dressel equals a lot of gold.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2017, with the headline 'Dressel spearheads gold rush'. Print Edition | Subscribe