Can Caeleb Dressel Join Matt Biondi in an Exclusive Club?

Caeleb Dressel kisses his good luck charm bandana before a race at the 2019 World Championships. - Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

There have already been plenty of superlatives thrown out for 23-year-old Caeleb Dressel of the United States. “Greatest short course swimmer ever,” “best NCAA performance of all-time,” and “the fastest man in the water” are just a few of the descriptors used for the former Florida Gator out of Green Cove Springs, Florida.

Dressel’s success in recent years has earned him a great deal of hype as he trains for a second Olympic appearance in Tokyo next year. Since making his debut in Rio four years ago with a sixth place finish in the 100 freestyle, as well as a gold medal in the heavily-hyped 4×100 freestyle relay, Dressel has won two World Swimmer of the Year awards, set five American records in short course yards, and broke a Michael Phelps world record.

So yeah, all of the superlatives have been well-earned.

Moving forward to the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Dressel comes in as one of the faces of the United States swim team, and has a chance for a huge medal haul if he can replicate what he did at the 2019 World Championships, where he won six medals in Olympic events including four golds.

There have been comparisons to Mr. Phelps, which even Dressel thinks are far-fetched. The two swim completely different events and only overlap in the 100 butterfly. Dressel’s strengths match up more with Matt Biondi as the current 100 butterfly world record holder is seeking to be just the second man after Biondi to earn Olympic medals in the 50 & 100 free and the 100 fly in the same Olympiad.

Caeleb Dressel of the United States of America (USA) walks in before competing in the men's 50m Freestyle Semifinal during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 26 July 2019.

Caeleb Dressel – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Dressel won golds in all three events last summer at the World Championships, with wins coming with relative ease in the 50 free and 100 fly on a busy seventh night of the meet. His biggest challenge came in the 100 free with Australian Kyle Chalmers just a tenth behind, and the two are on a collision course for Tokyo next year.

Kristin Otto (1988), Inge de Bruijn (2000, 2004) and Dara Torres (2000) are the only women to medal in all three sprint events in the same Games. The 50 free was only added to the Olympic lineup in 1988, so many great names from the past like Mark Spitz were unable to achieve the feat. Nonetheless, the 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly triple is an exclusive club, and one that Dressel has a chance to join next year.

Since 2000, the men’s 50 free and 100 fly have been on the same days at the Games, forcing many sprinters to choose one or the other. Since moving both events to the same night, no man has ever won medals in both. Dressel has proved he can handle that double, winning gold at the last two World Championships in both events while they were on the same night, so there really is no reason to cast doubt he can do the same thing on the sport’s biggest stage in Japan next year.

No one is doubting Caeleb Dressel’s talent, and seven individual World Championships gold medals are nothing to scoff at, but Dressel’s building legacy will truly be validated if he can win medals in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly in Tokyo next summer. A gold in at least one of the three could vault him into legendary status.

And with the slightly adjusted new schedule, with the men’s 50 free final moving to day eight, leaving just the 100 fly final and 50 free semifinal overlapping on day seven, it could become possible that Dressel could find himself at the top of the podium in those two events, something no man has ever accomplished. But it won’t come easy for him, as the newly added mixed medley relay final will also be on day seven, with Dressel likely to swim on Team USA’s finals relay.

But like stated earlier, Dressel has gotten through the last two World Championships sweeping gold medals in the 50 free, 100 fly and mixed freestyle relay on the same night, so that triple is no stranger to him.

Caeleb Dressel vs. Matt Biondi

Matt Biondi

Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive

In 1988 in Seoul, American Matt Biondi raced a schedule that gave him the chance to match Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals. In that chase, Biondi was favored in the 100 free and 100 fly, as well as all three relays. Biondi ended up taking golds in the sprint 50 & 100 free, and the three relays, with bronze coming in the 200 free and silver in the 100 fly, the latter coming in a historic .01 margin that saw Anthony Nesty win the first ever gold medal for Suriname.

Biondi remains one of the greatest swimmers in the history of the sport: a pioneer for professionalism in swimming, and one of the best relay swimmers for Team USA. He was inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1997 and finished his career with eleven total Olympic medals across three trips to the Games.

Biondi remains the only man to win Olympic medals in the 50 & 100 free and 100 fly in the same Games. Dressel has a chance to match Biondi with medals in those three events, which would cement his legacy as one of the best sprinters of all-time. It seems hard to believe, but Dressel has yet to win an individual medal at the Olympics. Biondi left Seoul in 1988 as the top swimmer of the Games, and Dressel could very well do the same next summer in Tokyo.


  1. avatar

    I just realised how terrible the scheduling is on day 7. The women’s 50m free semis are immediately before the mixed medley relay final and most teams typically use a female anchor so they’ll have to get out of the water and basically straight back in.

    • avatar
      Andy Ross

      Good point. A true nightmare for sprinters. Wonder if there was consideration to put the mixed relay on day 3.

  2. Martin Levine

    Biondi was also world class in the 200Fr. To match Biondi Dressel needs to step up on the 200Fr or 200IM both of which he is capable of.

    • avatar

      Hay un error al decir único hombre en ganar 50 y 100 libre, querrá decir único Estadounidense ya el gran Alexandre Popov lo logro en dos olimpiadas continuas, Barcelona 92 y Atlanta 96, ganándole incluso al mismo Biondi.

      • avatar
        Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

        La referencia no se trata solo del 50 y 100m estilo libre : incluye una medalla en la 100m mariposa