Caeleb Dressel, Simone Manuel Show Progress Toward Paris Goal at U.S. Open

simone manuel, caeleb dressel
Simone Manuel & Caeleb Dressel -- Photos Courtesy: Emily Cameron

Caeleb Dressel, Simone Manuel Show Progress Toward Paris Goal at U.S. Open

Their immensely successful sprint careers both exploded after golden moments at the 2016 Olympics, where Simone Manuel won the individual Olympic title in the 100 freestyle and anchored the American women to medley relay gold while Caeleb Dressel was a senior-level international rookie when he led off the U.S. men’s 400 free relay that powered to a gold medal. Both would win multiple individual world titles over the next few years, but more recently, health issues prompted both to take a hiatus from swimming.

This year marked the first international championship meet in more than a decade where neither Manuel nor Dressel was in attendance representing the United States. Manuel had been back in training since the previous fall, having relocated to Tempe, Ariz., to train with Arizona State sprint coach Herbie Behm. However, after some solid in-season races in the spring, she opted to skip U.S. Nationals, choosing to make an “an investment for the future” by turning the focus to 2024.

Dressel, meanwhile, swam at Nationals only months after returning to training under coach Anthony Nesty at the University of Florida, but he and Nesty never seriously expected he would qualify for Worlds.

Now, the two veteran sprinters, both on the comeback trail, both seeking their third Olympic berths and both 27-years-old, find themselves in similar positions six months out from U.S. Trials in Indianapolis: no longer at the forefront of their events yet very much in contention after solid performances at last weekend’s U.S. Open.

dressel, liendo

Caeleb Dressel (left) with Florida teammate Josh Liendo — Photo Courtesy: Emily Cameron

Dressel’s victory in the 100 butterfly, by one hundredth over Canadian teenager Ilya Kharun, was one of the meet’s top stories, even if his final time of 51.31 was almost two seconds shy of his world record (49.45). Immediately after that race, a brief interview with NBC Sports gave deeper insight into Dressel’s current mentality.

He showed a lightness, a free spirit that had been missing before his break. Even when he was charging toward five Olympic gold medals at the Tokyo Games, Dressel admitted struggling with immense pressure. This TV interview Friday evening echoed a notion that Dressel, his teammates and Nesty all conveyed at Nationals: he is genuinely happy, regardless of his results in the pool.

“It’s always exciting to see fast times,” Dressel told NBC Sports. “It’s not something I need right now. Training’s been going great, so it’s a little cherry on top to see last night and tonight, some pretty good times. We’re in a good spot, but I didn’t really need to see anything. Training’s been great. Group’s been great. It’s fun to be back.”

In addition to his butterfly win, Dressel swam times of 21.99 in the 50 free to win the B-final and 48.85 in the 100 free to place second in the consolation heat. Nothing ground-breaking but perfectly solid efforts. Right where he should be. Look at the performances of Katie Ledecky, Bobby Finke, Josh Liendo and others in Greensboro — it’s not like the Florida training group was lighting it up, indicating a heavy training load in preparation for the Olympic season.

Intense training plus solid midseason results plus radiating joy? Dressel has every reason to expect big results come June.

Slightly different story for Manuel, who did not win any events at the U.S. Open but did swim her best times since returning to the sport. She went under 25 in the 50 free, placing seventh in a fast final in 24.82, and she broke 54 in the 100 free, placing fourth in 53.65, a time only 14-hundredths slower than what it took to qualify for the Worlds team in the 400 free relay this year. Manuel also raced the 200 free for the first time since the 2021 Olympic Trials, and she took third behind Siobhan Haughey and Katie Ledecky in a solid time of 1:57.37.


Simone Manuel — Photo Courtesy: Emily Cameron

Looking ahead to her prospects for Olympic Trials, returning to the peak of the 50 free could be challenging for Manuel, with longtime rival Abbey Weitzeil swimming faster than ever and younger swimmers like Gretchen Walsh, Kate Douglass and Torri Huske all very much in the mix. All four of those women swam times of 24.4 or better at the U.S. Open. The 100 and 200 free, though, where relay spots will be on the line at Trials? Definitely available for Manuel to grab.

The prospect of Manuel returning to sub-53 territory in the 100 free by June is legitimate, and that will certainly be enough to make it to Paris, probably sufficient to grab a spot on the finals relay quartet. In the U.S. Open 200 free, Manuel beat three women who were part of either the prelims or finals squad of the American women’s silver-medal-winning relay at the World Championships, Erin Gemmell, Anna Peplowski and Leah Smith. Manuel’s days of providing key relay legs at major meets may not be done quite yet.

Manuel may no longer be the centerpiece star for the American women in the shorter events, contending for individual titles at major meets, just like Dressel may no longer be the dynamic performer who took gold in 11 consecutive major international finals between 2017 and 2022. And that’s perfectly OK.

Both have returned to swimming for the right reasons. Now, their prospects of qualifying for another Olympic team are becoming very realistic.

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