Caeleb Dressel Is Back: What Can We Expect From the Sprint Star at Atlanta Classic

Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Caeleb Dressel Back: What to Expect From the Sprint Star at Atlanta Classic

Even if he never raced again, Caeleb Dressel would have already secured his spot on the list of the best swimmers ever. His performance at the Tokyo Olympics made him just the third man ever to win three or more individual gold medals at one Olympics, joining the likes of Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps. He has eight individual world titles, and even five years later, his NCAA performances remain legendary.

Now, Dressel is set for his return to racing, 11 months after departing the World Championships with undisclosed health concerns. Since then, the 26-year-old has been quiet publicly, with just one Instagram post Labor Day weekend when he hinted that the concerns were relating to mental health. It’s unclear when he returned to full-time training, but he was present at a USA Swimming relay camp in Austin, Texas, late last month. Photos of Dressel in a racing suit indicated that a return to racing was imminent, likely in time for U.S. Nationals in late June that will serve as the qualifier for the World Championships.

Dressel is scheduled to swim six events at the upcoming Atlanta Classic: the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly Friday, the 200 fly and 50 free Saturday and the 200 IM and 100 free Sunday (although he could scratch some of these races later). As with any in-season meet, the goal will be to assess training results and fine-tune racing strategies for the all-important qualification and championship meets to come. In this instance, the latter goal is more pressing, with Dressel surely needing to knock some rust off following his layoff.

At these meets, times are a secondary concern. Some swimmers can perform consistently close to their best at midseason meets but not all, and Dressel has long been known for saving his best swims for the meets that matter most, when qualification and medals are on the line. Certainly, Dressel won’t swim anywhere close this best times, including his 100 fly world record of 49.45 or his sprint freestyle American records (46.96 in the 100 free and 21.04 in the 50 free).

At the San Antonio stop of the 2022 TYR Pro Swim Series, held less than a month before the U.S. International Team Trials, Dressel took second in the 100 fly behind Shaine Casas (51.79) and second in the 50 free behind Michael Andrew (21.86). He tied Andrej Barna for the 100 free win in 49.13. Coming close to those marks would put Dressel in a solid spot heading into the summer.

In Dressel’s absence from his main events last year, rivals such as Kristof Milak and Ben Proud earned gold medals while David Popovici became the world’s new superstar in the 100 free, breaking Cesar Cielo’s 13-year-old world record that narrowly eluded Dressel on several occasions. The Dressel of 2023 might not be the transcendent star who dominated the 2021 Olympics and the two World Championships before that, earning the honor of Swimming World’s Male Swimmer of the Year on all three occasions.

And that’s totally fine. From a purely competitive standpoint, the American men’s team will be thrilled to see Dressel return to solid form if only to provide speed and stability for the sprint relays. Remember, all three men who joined Dressel on the 400 free relay in Tokyo (which won gold) have retired, and without Dressel on the butterfly or freestyle legs, the U.S. men fell to Italy in the 400 medley relay at Worlds. Even a 47-high 100 free would be a huge boost.

But more important is Dressel’s health and happiness. In his revealing Instagram post in September, he said, “I know I can have swimming and happiness. I had them both at one point in my life and I’m working on it. If you need a break, take one.” He concluded the post with one short line: “I’ll be back.”

Hopefully for Dressel’s sake, he has found that comfortable place again, that tough balance to keep the sport fresh even though training and racing are his job. If he has, yes, the results will follow soon enough. In the meantime, with his long-awaited return imminent, swimming fans should look forward to watching this accomplished racer hit the blocks again.

Click here to view the full psych sheet for the Atlanta Classic.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x