GWANGJU • Not long ago, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin were regarded as royalty on any pool deck in the United States.
Phelps amassed 23 Olympic gold medals, after all, and Franklin had five of her own, so the pair served as the widely recognisable faces of the sport, wearing swim caps instead of crowns, hoisting medals instead of sceptres.
Caeleb Dressel and Regan Smith have, however, replaced them as the cornerstone for USA Swimming's future.
The former yesterday racked up three golds to take his tally at the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, to six titles after clocking 49.66sec to record the second-fastest time in the 100m butterfly.
He touched home in 49.50 to break Phelps' decade-long world record (49.82) in Friday's semis.
Earlier yesterday, he stormed to a championship record of 21.04sec to become the third-fastest man in the history of the 50m freestyle after Cesar Cielo (20.91) and Fred Bousquet (20.94). But both of them set their marks in 2009 while wearing the now banned "super suits", unlike Dressel, whose time is the quickest in textile.
His night, however, did not stop there, when he led off the Americans, including Zach Apple, Mallory Comerford and Simone Manuel, in the mixed 4x100m free final as they powered home first in 3:19.40, bettering their previous world record of 3:19.60 set at the 2017 edition in Budapest.
Dressel, who could equal his joint-record of seven golds in Hungary 2017, alongside Phelps, when he takes part in the men's 4x100m medley relay today, said: "It doesn't just come together by accident.
Ever the perfectionist, he then did some self-introspection, admitting that "every time I do a race, I always look for the bad", before vowing to "be ready to swim one tomorrow and swim one fast".
Meanwhile, American great Katie Ledecky displayed a champion's heart to win her fourth successive 800m free gold after being pushed to the limit by European champion Simona Quadarella.
The five-time Olympic gold medallist, who withdrew from her 1,500m title defence and 200m heat through illness, held off the Italian in 8:13.58 for a 15th world title, and Dressel hailed her performance, calling it "tough as nails".
It had been the toughest week of her career - little food, little sleep, zero gold medals - but she dug deep and found enough energy to come from behind for the victory.
"Simona was having a great race and pulled up right next to me and when she did that, I kind of felt like I could stick with her and rely on my speed," Ledecky said. "So I just tried to stay calm, relaxed from the 500 to the 750 really."
The 17-year-old Smith from Minnesota also made it a bumper evening for the US, as she took home her first world title in the women's 200m backstroke in 2:03.69 to beat Kaylee McKeown of Australia (2:06.26) and Kylie Masse of Canada (2:06.62).
Elsewhere, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden swept to victory in the 50m fly in 25.02, becoming the first woman to win three world titles in the event.
REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST
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