In His Own Stratosphere, Caeleb Dressel Goes Back-to-Back in 100 Butterfly (Race Video)

Caeleb Dressel of the United States of America (USA) celebrates after winning in the men's 100m Butterfly Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.
Parting water: Caeleb Dressel of the United States of America (USA) - Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

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World Swimming Championships (Caeleb Dressel)

Gwangju 2019, Day 7 finals

Men’s 100 butterfly

The analysis is pretty simple. At the moment, Caeleb Dressel occupies a different stratosphere than the rest of the world.

Contesting the middle race of a challenging three-event program on Saturday night, the 22-year-old American delivered the second-fastest time in the history of the 100 butterfly and captured his fifth gold medal of the World Championships. While Dressel did not match his world-record performance of 49.50 from the previous night’s semifinals, he obliterated the field, winning in 49.66.

Emerging a half-body length ahead of the competition off the start, Dressel burned through the first lap in 23.09 and came home in 26.57 to register the fastest splits on both ends of the race. That combination of front- and back-end speed enabled Dressel to prevail by more than a second, the silver medal going to Russia’s Andrei Minakov in 50.83 and the bronze medal to South Africa’s Chad Le Clos in 51.16.

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.

Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

Dressel’s latest excellence arrived just 32 minutes after he repeated as the world champion in the 50 freestyle. That victory was punctuated by an American record of 21.04, which was also the fastest textile performance in history, and not too far off the supersuit world record of 20.91, set in 2009 by Brazilian Cesar Cielo. Efficiently managing his time between the 50 free and 100 fly, Dressel used the diving well adjacent to the competition pool for warmdown purposes.

Dressel’s third event of the night also yielded a gold medal, as Dressel led off the mixed 400 freestyle relay that set a world record of 3:19.40. He was joined on that relay by Zach Apple, Mallory Comerford and Simone Manuel, the victory enabling Dressel to replicate his one-night, triple-gold showing from the last edition of the World Champs. If the Houston Rockets’ Russell Westbrook is the NBA’s king of the triple-double, Dressel is his sport’s king of the double-triple.

“It was not easy in 2017, and it was not easy this year,” Dressel said of embracing a three-event session. “But I don’t want it to be easy. I really don’t. It’s just about getting better every day. It’s about learning from event to event, practice to practice. I’m glad it’s over. I don’t want to swim any more tonight, but tomorrow I will be ready to swim one more fast.”

Caeleb Dressel of the United States of America (USA) on his way winning in the men's 100m Butterfly Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.

Caeleb Dressel – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

After taking down Michael Phelps’ 10-year-old world record in the 200 butterfly, Hungary’s Kristof Milak figured to be the only athlete capable of giving Dressel a scare. But that scenario did not materialize, as Milak finished a surprising fourth in 51.26, the speed necessary to push Dressel not in his arsenal.

This summer marks the second straight World Championships in which Dressel has been untouchable, and although the University of Florida product won seven gold medals two years ago in Budapest, what he has done in Korea has been at another level. All four of Dressel’s individual events produced American records, the 100 fly going a step further. More, his performances in the sprint freestyles are the fastest textile efforts of all-time.

In between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships, Dressel endured a difficult Pan Pacific Championships. While he won gold in the 100 butterfly, he was the silver medalist in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. His preparation for the meet was affected by a scooter accident that dented his training. Now, no one is remembering Dressel’s struggles at Pan Pacs.

“I knew what was ahead of me from the moment I finished Pan Pacs last year,” Dressel said. “I knew what was ahead of me and it took a lot of focus, not just today, but leading up to the meet.”

What Phelps pulled off at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing is unrivaled in the sport, his eight gold medals in the Water Cube highlighted by seven world-record times. Over the course of 17 races, Phelps contested – arguably – the two most-difficult races on the program, the 400 individual medley and 200 butterfly, and he had to deal with the intense pressure that accompanied his quest.

But it can be argued that what Dressel has done inside the Nambu University Aquatics Center is on the ladder rung below. All four of Dressel’s solo wins came in dominant fashion, the closest triumph by .12 over Australian Kyle Chalmers in the 100 freestyle. By the way, that Chalmers guy just happens to be the reigning Olympic champ in the 100 free. On top of his rout in the 100 fly, his other victories spanned .35 in the 50 fly and .41 in the 50 free.

“There are parts of my races that I can improve on in every race,” Dressel said. “I never have had a perfect race in my life, and I certainly don’t think I will. You can always improve.”

The difference between Dressel’s semifinal race and what he produced in the final was found on the opening lap. Dressel went out .26 slower in the final and while he returned in 22.57, .10 quicker, the early gap was too much to overcome. No matter. On two occasions, now, Dressel has raced inside the 49.82 marker that Phelps threw down in 2009 as a decade-enduring world record.

The speed carried by Dressel is historical in nature, and not just because it has surpassed the best of Phelps. The times of Dressel from the semifinals and final of the 100 fly are faster than what Hall of Famer Rowdy Gaines (49.80) went for 1984 Olympic gold – in the 100 freestyle. More, Dressel’s world record of 49.50 sits just off what South African sprint legend Jonty Skinner (49.44) posted as the world record in the 100 freestyle from 1976-1981.

Of the 11-fastest times in history, seven now belong to Dressel, who over the past three years has taken the event for a quantum leap. When Ian Crocker stormed to the gold medal at the 2005 World Championships, his world record of 50.40 was revolutionary. The time remained as the textile record until Singapore’s Joseph Schooling won the 2016 Olympic title in Rio de Janeiro in 50.39. Since the World Champs in Budapest, Dressel has eclipsed Crocker and Schooling’s bests on seven occasions.

The All-Time List (All Suits)

1. Caeleb Dressel    49.50 (7/26/19)
2. Caeleb Dressel    49.66 (7/27/19)
3. Michael Phelps    49.82 (8/1/09)
4. Caeleb Dressel    49.86 (7/29/17)
5. Milorad Cavic      49.95 (8/1/09)
6. Milorad Cavic      50.01 (7/31/09)
7. Caeleb Dressel    50.07 (7/28/17)
8. Caeleb Dressel    50.08 (7/27/17)
9. Michael Phelps    50.22 (7/9/09)
10. Caeleb Dressel  50.28 (7/26/19)
11. Caeleb Dressel  50.36 (6/23/19)

If Dressel merely possessed his front-half speed, he would be a daunting obstacle for anyone stepping onto the blocks as a challenger. The fact that he also possesses the best closing speed in the world is proof of how dominant he has become in the fly. The closest pursuer on the way out was Minakov, who found himself .41 adrift at the turn. Over the last 50 meters, Mehdy Metella was nearest to matching Dressel, and the Frenchman was .64 slower after being more than a second back on the first lap.

How Dressel is able to successfully navigate a program of three title races in the span of 100 minutes can be linked to the experience he gained during his four-year NCAA career at Florida. The American college system routinely asks athletes to tackle multiple races in short order in dual-meet and invitational competition. Consequently, those familiar with the format become accustomed to both the physical and mental demands of racing with minimal recovery time.

In the race behind Dressel’s one-man show, Minakov did not yield to Le Clos down the last length, the 17-year-old earning his first major international medal at the senior level. With seven gold medals at last year’s Summer Youth Olympics, including three solo wins, Minakov has been tabbed as a future star, that potential now being realized on the big stage. Meanwhile, Le Clos picked up his seventh career medal at the World Champs.

“Congratulations to Caeleb on another amazing swim,” Le Clos said. “Really impressive. I was happy to get the bronze, but my time was a bit slow for me personally. But I can’t complain. Two bronze medals at World Champs a year before the Olympics. I’m very happy with that. We need to dig deep for next year.”

The surprise in the chase for the minor medals was Milak coming up short of the podium. A few days removed from his stunning 1:50.73 clocking in the 200 fly, an effort that wiped .78 off Phelps’ 2009 world record, Milak was just sixth-quickest in the field over the last 50 meters, a stretch where he was expected to reel in his foes – Dressel excluded. Two years ago, Milak was 50.62 for the silver medal at Worlds.

All that remains for Dressel is the 400 medley relay, where he is expected to handle the butterfly leg. If the United States can fend off top challengers Great Britain and Australia, Dressel will have his second consecutive World Championships of seven gold medals. After that, the focus turns to the Olympic campaign. Dressel will undoubtedly be one of the most-hyped athletes of the Games, something he is prepared to handle.

“I’ll be ready for it next year,” Dressel said. “I’ve never been one to buy into all the hype. It’s really just between me and my coach.”

Results

1. Caeleb Dressel, United States 49.66
2. Andrei Minakov, Russia 50.83
3. Chad Le Clos, South Africa 51.16
4. Kristof Milak, Hungary 51.26
5. Mehdy Metella, France 51.38
6. Matthew Temple, Australia 51.51
7. James Guy, Great Britain 51.62
8. Marius Kusch, Germany 51.66

11 comments

    • Lisa Happ

      Nora Mulvihill Lersch my first thought of that photo as well. Amazing athlete.

  1. Brett Davies

    Total dominance and unbelievably amazing

  2. Debbie Sheehan

    Wow! So happy to hear that his family is there to share this with him!

  3. Alex Szabo-Pardi

    While Michael Phelps has retired from swimming, (I, we, thought the swim meets, Olympics, Worlds, not gonna be the same! I miss watching Phelps!) But… there is a New Star on the USA team, Caeleb Dressel! And he can Swim!!!!! Wow! The excitement in watching swimming is back! Way to go Caeleb!