Chasing Phelps: Could Caeleb Dressel Match Eight Gold Medals?

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Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Commentary by Grant Anger, Swimming World College Intern. 

This March at the NCAA Division 1 Championships, Caeleb Dressel proved that he is one of the all-time greats in short course history. He dominated every event he swam during his college years, setting American Records in five different events. Dressel’s senior season proved that he was not just a sprint star, showing off some surprising versatility.

Can Caeleb Dressel Dominate at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games?

At SEC Championships, he swam both the 200 IM and 100 breast, setting American records in both. Even though he is a short course stud, Dressel also gave us a preview of what we might see him do long course. Last year, Dressel tied Micheal Phelps‘s record of 7 Gold Medals at one World Championships, bringing home gold in the 50m and 100m free, 100m fly, and four relays. But could he possibly break another legendary Phelps record?

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Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Phelps set the insane record of eight gold medals at one Olympics, breaking Mark Spitz‘s previous record of seven. One big bonus for Dressel is the addition of the mixed 400 free relay in the 2020 Olympics. This event was not present when Phelps and Spitz swam and would make tying the record much more feasible.

The summer Pan Pacific Games should be an indicator of what Dressel might compete in at the 2020 games. With the amount of versatility and dominance Dressel has shown these past two years, tying eight golds is undoubtedly possible.

In 2020, what events would Dressel need to win to break the record? Read on to find out.

50 Free

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Dressel’s strongest event is by far the 50 freestyle. In short course, he was the first man under 18 seconds putting up a blazing 17.63. Long course Dressel is also the man to beat this year. At 2017 worlds, he swam the fastest textile suit time ever in a 21.15. Competition remains tough, however, as it is difficult to predict who the Dressel’s main competition will be in 2020. With most of the 50 veterans nearing retirement age and younger swimmers constantly coming on to the scene, the 50 free will remain tough for Dressel. However, his performance at NCAAs is an excellent indicator of what is in store for PanPacs, and potentially for 2020.

Potential Gold Medals: 1

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

100 Free

The 100 free is another classic Dressel event, as he took home gold in this event at the World Championships. However, this is the most fierce competition of any race, specifically from the Australians. Kyle Chalmers, the Olympic champion, was notably absent from Worlds 2017 due to a medical condition. Chalmers’ young age bodes well for the Aussie, winning the 2016 Olympics at only 19 years old.

Cameron McEvoy, also from Australia, is a threat to Dressel. McEvoy currently has a faster time then Dressel’s 47.17 at a blistering 47.07. Both Australians were present at the Commonwealth Games earlier in the spring, meaning both should be present for Pan Pacs this summer. The 100 free at Pan Pacs should be an excellent test for Dressel and be an early indicator for 2020. 

Potential Gold Medals: 2

100 Fly

Dressel is a big favorite for the 100m fly. His 49.86 time at Worlds in 2017 was a historic swim. Not only was he .04 seconds away from the World Record (set by Phelps during the polyurethane suit era), he also became the second man under 50 seconds in the 100 fly, marking him down as the world preeminent 100 butterflyer. 

Potential Gold Medals: 3

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Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Relays

The most significant bonus for Dressel is the addition of the mixed 400 free relay at the 2020 games. With one more possible event to medal in, the chances of tying eight medals increases. However, nothing is a guarantee. Several nations could spoil the possibility. 

Dressel would need to first win the men’s 400 medley relay. This seems likely, as the American men have never lost, but there are no guarantees. With the rise of Adam Peaty, Ben Proud, and several other studs, the English stand a decent chance to spoil.

The 400 free relay always remains one of the best races to watch, as some of the most legendary Olympic swims have happened during this relay. The French, Russians, and Australians still pose a threat to the Americans.

The third relay for Dressel would be the 800 free relay, even though he is questionable. The U.S. currently has some extremely deep talent in this event. American studs like Townley Hass, Blake Pieroni, Jack Conger, and several others would make it extremely tough for Dressel to earn a spot on this relay. However, for the sake of keeping things interesting, we will say he will.

The biggest relay competition in 2020 might be the newest relay. The mixed 400 free relay will feature two women and two men. The competition will be fierce from the Australians. The Australian women, particularly the Campbell sisters, are incredibly dominant in the 100 free, holding the world record in the women’s relay. The Australian men also have their share 100 free stars. To keep the dream of eight gold medals alive, Dressel would need to swim every available relay and sweep them all.

Potential Gold Medals: 7

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

This is where things become tough to predict, as Dressel’s seven possible gold medals leave him one short of tying Phelp’s record. Luckily, we have seen Dressel swim what most would consider off events this year. He proved that he was not a slouch in the 200 IM. and the 100 breast at SECs. If Dressel were to attempt to tie eight golds, he would need to pick up another individual event.

Now, we will attempt to predict what event Dressel might swim in addition to his current line up. However, as well rounded of a swimmer Dressel is, it is doubtful he will pick up events like the 1500 or the 400 IM.

200 IM

The most likely pick-up for Dressel is the 200 IM. Dressel threw down a blazing 1:38 200 IM at SECs, a meet he hadn’t tapered much for. Not only was this the fastest time ever, but it was also a full second faster than the previous record.

The possibility of him picking this event is high, although he has not swum it long course in recent history. The 200 IM long course is also very different from its short course counterpart. A majority of Dressel’s dominance lies in his turns and underwaters, yet the length of both are cut in half in long course. Dressel still stands a good chance of being a contender in this event, having beaten Phelps’ and Lochte’s best short course times. With Pan Pacs and U.S. National Championships on the horizon, hopefully there is a Dressel long course 200 IM as well.

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Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

100 Breast

Few had any idea that Dressel could swim breaststroke at the level he did, except for maybe Dressel himself. During SECs, he shocked the swimming world and set the 100 breast American Record by just .01. Even though his 100 breast is extremely impressive, it seems very unlikely that he would swim it long course with Adam Peaty so dominant. Peaty not only has the fastest ten times ever but is also the first man to break 58 seconds and remains extremely close to breaking 57. 

200 Free

It has been some years since Dressel has swum a 200 free tapered. It is possible that Dressel could incorporate the 200 free into his Olympic line up. However, as discussed in the relay portion, it would be extremely tough for Dressel make the 200 free in the relay, let alone individually for the U.S., but Dressel has surprised us before. With how good his 200 IM is, he proved that he might have the stamina and endurance for the 200 free. Speculation aside, it would take a lot for Dressel to bring home gold in the 200 free at 2020.

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Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

200 Fly

With Phelps’ retirement, the 200 fly spot remains open for Team USA. Similar to the 200 free, it has been a while since Dressel’s last 200 fly. His 100 fly is impressive and could be an indication of how dominant his 200 butterfly might be. Again, it is unknown whether Dressel attempts the event: too much is still open for speculation. 

Dressel is a great candidate to bring down Phelp’s record of eight gold medals at one Olympics. His versatility and talent give him a great chance at tying, or even breaking, a legendary record.

He is an obvious pick for several relays and has a great chance of winning several individual events. However, the difficulty of completing such a feat is high. Dressel would need to swim all four relays and also win four individual events to tie the record.

His current line up of the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly would leave him one medal short, requiring the addition of another event, most likely being the 200 IM. Theoretically, he could also stand a decent chance of winning the 200 freestyle and 200 fly – his other options to match eight.

Whether Dressel attempts this feat or not, it is certainly possible; however, 2020 remains in the distant future. Regardless if Dressel attempts to bring down the record, he will still be amazing to watch.

14 comments

  1. Nope… I think he’s one race short of 8. And the 50s aren’t even that safe, on LC, going up against Proud, Morozov, Fratus etc. I don’t think he’s the taker, but he’s gonna perform amazing!

  2. Karen A Hayes

    Maybe and it’s certainly fun to watch him try!

  3. Tana Balhoff

    He’ll try but will fall short. I watched him for a couple of years when he swam for Bolles in Jacksonville Florida!!

  4. 100fly
    50 free
    100free
    200 medley?
    4×100 free
    4×200 free
    4×100 medley
    4×100 free mixed

  5. Andrew Beggs

    Why not? There needs to be a fine line between goal setting and laughter…

  6. Roberto Valadez

    Not just match 8 gold medals but break some world records too

  7. MK Mahoney

    He could and someday someone will. Time will tell

  8. avatar
    oli993

    He was the third man under 50 seconds in 100 Fly. Don’t forget Milorad Cavic’s 49.95 in rome.