Caeleb Dressel Ready to Take On Nathan Adrian Role in Third Olympics

Caeleb Dressel (left) & Chris Guiliano -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Caeleb Dressel Ready to Take On Nathan Adrian Role in Third Olympics

After Nathan Adrian won Olympic gold in the men’s 100 freestyle at the 2012 London Games, breaking a two-decade American drought in the event, Adrian became the standard-bearer to whom all young American sprinters looked up to. Adrian continued to make international teams, win medals and anchor U.S. relay squads for seven years afterward, and during that time, he eager welcomed to the national level younger competitors trying to knock him off.

Caeleb Dressel remembers the first time he encountered Adrian, when the two were competing in Orlando in early 2016. Dressel was 19 years old, Adrian 27.

“The first time I met Adrian, I thought I would hate the guy, honestly. I’d never really met him. I knew I was going to be racing him at Trials, and he was so nice. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what USA Swimming is all about,'” Dressel said. “I think it’s just showing that younger generation what they’re capable of.”

Now, Dressel is 27 and heading to his third Olympics, just as Adrian was in 2016. His week has been successful by most measures, returning to international-caliber times after an eight-month break from training and relatively slow times in his initial return to competition at last year’s U.S. Nationals. Dressel is not reaching his American records in each event, but he will not need those sort of times to contend for an individual medal in the 50 free (and if he qualifies Saturday night, the 100 butterfly) and to help the U.S. men secure gold in the 400 free and medley relays.

Caeleb Dressel — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In the 100 free, Dressel could not overcome the heroics of Chris Guiliano and Jack Alexy, a pair of swimmers who have rocked up the sprint rankings in the last two years, with Alexy now ranking second all-time among Americans and Guiliano third. Two days later, Dressel issued a message of not-so-fast as he edged out Guiliano for the win in the splash-and-dash.

Swimming has a pattern of coming full-circle, and now Dressel is filling a role strikingly similar to Adrian’s eight years ago.

“Early on in my career, it was, ‘How long can I be dominant?’ And that’s still a little bit of my mindset, but I think it’s switching a little bit to, ‘What can I show this younger generation with Jack and Chris?’” Dressel said. “For me, that was Nathan. I got to see Tony (Ervin) in Rio. I might just be at the age where maybe it’s showing these younger guys something they didn’t think they were capable of doing.”

In the 100 free prelims Tuesday, as Dressel broke 48 for the first time in two years, he was two lanes away as Alexy scared Dressel’s 2019 American record of 46.96 before coming in at 47.08. Dressel knew he would have to deal with Alexy in the coming rounds, which might normally have set off his competitive instincts, but instead, he felt pride.

“Watching Jack go 47.0, I didn’t want to lose but it made me happy. I know how exciting it is to go 47-low. There’s not a lot of people who have done that,” Dressel said. “I’m not saying I’m giving up and I’m trying to get third place and not make individual events. It’s different, and I think I’m in a similar mentality to what Nathan was feeling.”

For Alexy, Guiliano, Hunter Armstrong and other younger swimmers who have claimed spots on the U.S. team bound for Paris, it has been a thrill becoming Dressel’s teammate and receiving his warm welcome into the elite ranks.

“I looked up at Caeleb since he first made the team in 2016 and he has been heading the charge for men’s U.S. sprinting for years,” Alexy said. “It’s really special being on the same Olympic team with someone I looked up to for so many years, and I’m just really excited to race with him in the relay in Paris.”

Armstrong has on his second Olympic team, and he recalled the first time he met Dressel as a 20-year-old rookie in 2021. After swimming backstroke only, he will join the men’s 400 free relay in Paris after taking fourth in the 100 free this week.

“I think every sprinter in the United States, and maybe even the world, has looked up to Caeleb,” Armstrong said. “When I made my debut in ’21, we were doing our behind the curtain setting up for the big reveal, and he walked by me. I’m just like, ‘Hey, Caeleb.’ He’s like, ‘Hey, Hunter, nice swim.’

“And I had my little fan boy moment where I’m like, ‘Caeleb Dressel knows who I am.’ It’s incredibly special to share a relay with a legend like that.”

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