Swimming: Three golds in a night is not a Dressel rehearsal; Caeleb's the real deal

Caeleb Remel Dressel of the US competes during the 17th FINA World Aquatics Championships, Men's Butterfly 100m Final.
Caeleb Remel Dressel of the US competes during the 17th FINA World Aquatics Championships, Men's Butterfly 100m Final. PHOTO: REUTERS

BUDAPEST - 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 are 42 events pencilled in for this eight-day meet and the 20-year-old American could win golds in seven of them - he will swim in the 4x100m medley late on Sunday, a race the US are heavy favourites - and could match the previous championships record held by Michael Phelps at the 2007 edition in Melbourne.

"The comparisons are probably inevitable," Dressel 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 has participated in 15 races (heats and finals) already.

Speaking after he won a bronze in the 100m butterfly 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 a similar impact as Phelps at the Summer Games but the University of Florida student has certainly left his mark on these World Championships.

 

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 on 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) has another race in about two minutes."

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

At the Fina meet, Dressel notched a new personal best 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 pre-race routine while on deck is to kneel and pray 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 holding their breaths to see if he had broken Phelps' world record. And their disappointment told when the scoreboard showed that he had missed the milestone by a whisker.

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.

"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 math: One Dressel equals a lot of gold.