Free, Fly, IM, Breast… 100 Back Record Next for Caeleb Dressel?

caeleb dressel
Photo Courtesy: Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

By David Rieder.

Caeleb Dressel is already the fastest man ever in the 100-yard free—by almost a second, actually, after his jaw-dropping 40.00 from last year’s NCAA championships. He broke the 100 fly NCAA and American records at that meet as well, upsetting Joseph Schooling and recording a time of 43.58.

Seven World Championship gold medals later, Dressel returned to yards, and Thursday night at the SEC championships, he added the 200 IM record to his résumé, smashing David Nolan’s previous mark by more than a second on his way to a 1:38.13.

And finally, he broke the American record in the 100 breast Saturday night, powering his way to a 50.03. That beat the four-year-old record of 50.04 held by Kevin Cordes—the man who went on to finish fourth in the 100-meter breast at the Rio Olympics.

That’s now five short course yards American records for Dressel, including the 50 free mark he set back in 2016. Some have already declared him the greatest yards swimmer in history.

Is he? Well, declaring anyone the “best ever” can be extremely subjective (unless we’re talking about Michael Phelps), and the present moment is probably a bad time to make such definitive declarations.

However, Dressel now owns American records in three strokes, as well as IM. Only one person has ever held records in all four: Tracy Caulkins, who once owned records in the 100 breast, 200 breast, 200 fly, 200 back, 200 IM, 400 IM and 500 free at the same time.

Could Dressel join her in that elite category by breaking the American record in the 100 back?


Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

After his record-setting 200 IM, Dressel admitted that he’s been placing extra emphasis on backstroke. “I know it’s my weak point, so in practice I try to get after it the best I can,” he said. And his underwater dolphin kicks—more than half of a short course 100 back—are among the most powerful in the world.

Remember, it’s not like Dressel is the best technical breaststroker out there, and he’s the fastest in history in the 100-yard event because he gets huge distance off his start, turns and pullouts—where he takes full advantage of the one dolphin kick allowed off each wall.

So could he use those same strengths on the walls to break the 100 back record, the 43.49 set by Dressel’s former Bolles teammate Ryan Murphy in 2016, months before he won three Olympic gold medals?

“Nah, Ryan’s got that one,” Dressel said. “I don’t like being on my back. It makes me panic.”

Regardless, with his collegiate career quickly winding own, Dressel has no realistic opportunity to go after the 100 back record, and in the end, a non-backstroker breaking into the exclusive 43-second club would be absolutely shocking.

That said, if Dressel had the opportunity to swim the 100 back at NCAAs, would a 44-second clocking or even an NCAA title against a field absent Murphy be all that crazy?

At this point, maybe Dressel is spoiling us. Going into that 100 breast final, many on deck in College Station expected him to break Cordes’ record, and Dressel admitted to being a little bit disappointed that he didn’t become the first man to crack the 50-second barrier in the event.

“I would like to have been a little bit faster,” he said. “It wasn’t the best swim I’ve ever had. I think I was a little scrambled the whole race. Honestly, I thought my relay swim was better. My time wasn’t, but technically I think the relay swim was better. Always room for improvement, and you’ve got to learn from every swim.”

Remember, this is his fifth-best event, and he swam the fastest time ever.

It’s also short course, a medium of swimming which will no longer matter for Dressel after he completes his NCAA career next month. As he knows, Dressel will be judged by the rest of the world outside the NCAA swimming bubble by what he achieves in long course. So far, he has passed his sprint freestyle and butterfly tests with flying colors.

Can he translate his successes in IM and in breaststroke to long course? The answer to that question will come soon enough. For now, just appreciate the chance to enjoy his short course greatness.

Video Interview with Caeleb Dressel:


  1. avatar
    Lane Four

    1:53 200 meter I.M. Summer of 2018. Here it comes! Get ready!

  2. avatar

    Caeleb’s interview was nearly as skilled and joyful as his record swims. Thanks.

    At this point it is an easy argument that Caeleb is the male GOAT of SCY swimming, but, just as clearly, he is NOT even the best ever short course swimmer to go through the University of Florida, though many of Tracy Caulkins’ best SCY swims were done representing Nashville and predated her time as a Gator

    Both Rowdy and David, in their own ways, short changed the athlete who remains the GOAT in SCY.

    The article mentions Tracy Caulkins as still the only athlete to own American records in all four strokes. Rowdy disses his own 1984 Olympic teammate, however, by failing to put limiting language in his “tweet” that “…Caeleb ‘freaking’ Dressel is the greatest short course swimmer in history.” Just insert “male,” and his comment and conclusion are true and good.

    David pays homage to Tracy by listing seven events, including all four strokes and both IMs, in which she held American marks, compared to the “paltry” 5 events, with no backstroke, Caeleb rules.

    But in evaluating a GOAT for SCY, it is fair to give value to a range of distances; other than the 50-100 freestyle, Caeleb’s marks include just the shortest distances in his record setting disciplines: 100 Fly, 100 Breast, 200 IM. Absolutely incredible … but his list pales in comparison to Tracy’s career record.

    David short changed Tracy by failing to include one of Tracy’s crown jewels in her list of American records. In addition to the events David lists in the article, Tracy set the 100 Freestyle American record … twice.

    She first broke that mark in April of 1978 at :49.58 and then after giving it up to Sippy Woodhead (twice) and to Jill Sterkel, she took it back in April, 1979, at : 49.03.

    That puts Tracy at 8 record events, over all 4 strokes and the IM, certainly outshining the remarkable 5 events over 3 strokes and the IM put up by Caeleb, representing males.

    In an exercise recognizing changes in swimming competition and event formats between the late 70’s and today (i.e. no 4 x 50 relays in conference and national meets, no chance for relay lead-off splits in 4 x 50 relays, tighter limits on # of events one was allowed to enter, change in woman’s college swimming from rule by AIAW to NCAA and the changes in competition level that brought about, etc.). I suggest Tracy would have held the 50 yard freestyle record as well in the period in which she actually did hold the 100; she did not have a fair opportunity that I know of at the time to swim a rested 50 free or back.

    Throughout the period(s) when Tracy held the 100 Free record, the 50 Free mark was held by former USC great Sue Hinderaker at :23.14, having been set 3-17-78, eventually being broken 3-21-80 by Sterkel. I searched in vain to find Tracy’s 50 split on her record swims in the 100 but was not able to do so. In my experience, however, most times when an athlete is able to perform :49.03 for 100 yards, their best 50 is almost always well below 23 seconds. In the Top NCAA times listing at this point in the year, as found on the USA swimming website, Tracy’s :49.03 would slip in at #49. The same position on the 50 freestyle list is :22.44. 0.70 ahead of Hinderaker’s American record mark. Just saying ….

    Has Caeleb been on any SCY American or US Open record relays? Not according the the USA Swimming website. As far as American records including relays go, in Tracy’s time there were only 3 swum in the national championships, 4×100 Medley, 4×100 Free and 4×200 Free. Going into the 1979 Nationals, Tracy’s 1978 Nashville team held the Medley Relay record; in the 4×100 free relay, Nashville’s 1979 team broke the record Nashville had set in 1978. Nashville won the 1978 4×200 relay though the American record was held by the 1976 US Olympic time in an event prior to Montreal.

    Tracy was great on SCY relays. Her two times setting the 100 SCY Free record were both relay lead-offs for Nashville. It is somewhat surprising that despite breaking the American records in both the 100 Free and 500 Free at the 1979 Nationals at East Los Angeles, she never broke the 200 free. She missed it by 3 days!! Coming into that meet the record was 1:45.91 by Stephanie Elkins set in 1978. On 4-13-79 Caulkins lead-off the Nashville 4×200 at 1:45.38, faster than any other swim in the relay event, flat or flying start. Unfortunately for Tracy, earlier in the meet Sippy Woodhead had swum a wondrous 1:44.10, which then lasted as the American record until 1992, 13 years.
    With different events and event orders in collegiate swimming in the early 1980s, I suspect Tracy, who won several NCAA titles in the 100 IM, may have had the American record in that event as well, though the event is no longer in the US records. No question that off a 1:38.13 200 IM, Caeleb would hold the 100 Yard IM record if contested but …. it isn’t according the the website.

    In summary,
    Caeleb: SCY American Records: 50 Free, 100 Free, 100 Fly, 200 IM, 100 Breast, no relays;
    5 events, 3 strokes; probably should have 100 Yd IM Am Record
    1 x 50 yd event; 3 x 100 yd event (should probably have 100 Yd IM also); 1 x 200 yd event

    Tracy: SCY Am. Records: 100 Free, 500 Free, 200 back, 100 Breast, 200 Breast, 200 Fly, 200 IM, 400 IM, 4×100 FR, 4×200 FR (Club), 4×100 MR,
    100 IM from winning NCAA, though I don’t have record results; 50 free by extrapolation.
    Eight (ten?) distinct Individual event Am Records, 3 relay Am Records,
    Range from 50 through 500

    I vote Tracy as SCY GOAT, Caeleb as male SCY GOAT. Not really even that close.

    • avatar

      dunc1952, your commentary is always exceptionally thorough and insightful, but you have outdone even yourself here! (and I say this as a fan of both Caulkins and Dressel)

    • avatar
      Lane Four

      WOW! LOVED LOVED LOVED your response. You brought back wonderful memories and reignited the flame that TC is and always be the best ever. Thank you!

  3. avatar

    In another time (no goggles, lycra briefs), Spitz held records in the 100, 200, 400, 1500 Frees, 100 & 200 Fly, and 200 IM. And, although no record, he was top 3 in the 50 Free in the NCAAs in the early 70s. He swam 100 back a couple of times and I believe his time was 51.60, but it was not a record. If you go back to his 10 & under days, he might have held records in back and breast.

    Not too shabby!

    • avatar
      cynthia curran

      How true about Mark Spitz. He did a good backstroke in practice race at the Munich Olympics and defeated the American champ in 100 meter. He probably did a good 100 yard backstroke as well,

  4. avatar
    cynthia curran

    How true about Mark Spitz. He did a good backstroke in practice race at the Munich Olympics and defeated the American champ in 100 meter. He probably did a good 100 yard backstroke as well,