Commentary: Caeleb Dressel Withdrawal Leaves Hole at World Championships

DRESSEL Caeleb USA 100m Freestyle Men Heats Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 21/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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Caeleb Dressel Withdrawal Leaves Hole at World Championships

From the outside, it appeared to be a mostly normal start to the World Championships for Caeleb Dressel. Sure, he was not hitting his best times over the first two days of the meet, but he led the U.S. men to an easy win in the 400 freestyle relay, and then he grabbed his second consecutive gold medal in the 50 butterfly. After an off day from racing Monday, he swam the 100 free prelims Tuesday and qualified second before pulling out of the semifinals. Now, he’s finished for the meet and heading home.

Neither Dressel nor USA Swimming has revealed specific reasons for Dressel’s departure. “He’s withdrawn for medical reasons. Super unfortunate. We support Caeleb, and for his long-term health, that’s the best decision to make today,” USA Swimming National Team managing director Lindsay Mintenko said Wednesday in Budapest. “Due to HIPPA laws in the States, I can’t be more specific, and so unfortunately, we’re just going to leave it at that. Maybe some day we’ll be able to share more.” A spokesperson for Dressel confirmed that the issue is related to a pre-existing condition and not COVID-19.

Mintenko added that Dressel was “just not fit to compete right now… It’s the right decision, especially for Caeleb’s long-term health, and that’s ultimately what we’re here for, for the health of our athletes.”

The appropriate response right now for swimming fans is empathy for a man who has been the sport’s dominant performer since the last edition of the World Championships in Budapest five years ago. Surely Dressel will reveal more details at a time he deems appropriate, and the timing is his decision to make.

Plenty of top swimmers chose to skip these World Championships coming off career-best performances at the Olympics last year but not Dressel. He took time away from serious training in the fall, but following the ISL final in early December, he returned to serious training for a six-month buildup to Worlds. And now, because of reasons outside of his control, he’s done for the meet before any of his main events.

“It’s obviously hard,” Mintenko said. “Caeleb’s worked really hard for this. Any time you come to a World Championships or any international competition and can’t compete, it’s very difficult.”

Everyone is hoping for the best for Dressel in his recovery, but the World Championships go on, so there are swimming implications to consider. The start lists for individual events are final, so just like Great Britain could not replace Duncan Scott when he withdrew from the meet due to complications in his recovery from COVID-19, the American team cannot insert a fill-in for Dressel. That’s a bummer with the third-place finishers from the U.S. International Team Trials in both of his remaining events already in Budapest: Trenton Julian in the 100 fly and Brooks Curry in the 50 free.

Constructing relay lineups will be an added challenge without Dressel on hand to contribute his typically lights-out splits. For the mixed 400 freestyle relay, the Americans were facing a tough decision between Curry and Ryan Held for the second men’s spot, so now they will surely use both swimmers for the finals quartet. In the men’s medley relay, one of those two will handle anchor duties, while Michael Andrew is likely to step in for the butterfly leg, although Julian and Shaine Casas are also options.

Fortunately for the U.S. team, the first attempt at filling in for Dressel went off without a hitch. A last-minute lineup change in the mixed 400 medley relay lineup worked out with a gold medal.

In the individual events, it was a bummer for Dressel to miss the chance to face off with David Popovici in Wednesday’s 100 free final. Popovici put a scare into the world record in the semifinal round before returning to win gold in the final, adding to his earlier triumph in the 200 free. Same story in the upcoming 100 fly. After taking down his own world record on his way to gold in the 200 fly, Kristof Milak said he was hoping Dressel would return so the two swimmers could face off in a race that would be fitting and epic. Now, it will be Milak as the heavy favorite for gold and racing against the clock as he tries to run down Dressel’s world record of 49.45.

But right now, real life takes priority.

“Hopefully not terribly long,” Mintenko said of Dressel’s recovery. “Hopefully it’s quick, and he’ll be able to recover and be back on his feet soon.”

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Tracy Phillips
2 days ago

Feel better Caleb.

robert kravutske
2 days ago

your the man… will always be the man……you are so exciting to watch……I saw you go under 18…..50 free a few years back…….your great memories will last many generations….

1 day ago

To not be more specific only invites speculation, not all of which is positive. Kind of leaves a void in leadership. Thank goodness Ledecky stepped up and gave Team USA a much-needed boost of that last night in the 4×200 relay.

1 day ago
Reply to  Chiperoo

It only invites speculation for those interested in gossip and the social media trolls. He withdrew for medical reasons. He’s obviously not fit to complete the meet. That should be enough for the general public. If this leaves a void in the leadership, the US team has some issues.

18 hours ago
Reply to  Cate

Nathan Adrian, he aint.

Cal Swimmer
16 hours ago
Reply to  Chiperoo

Right. He’s better.

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