U.S. Olympic Trials: Caeleb Dressel Pops Another Sub-50 100 Butterfly; Tom Shields Returning to Games


U.S. Olympic Trials: Caeleb Dressel Pops Another Sub-50 100 Butterfly; Tom Shields Returning to Games

As the face of USA Swimming, the top priority for Caeleb Dressel is to excel in the pool. His second duty is to excite the fanbase. On the seventh night of the United States Olympic Trials, Dressel demonstrated how those responsibilities go together.

Kicking off the evening session at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Dressel got the crowd into a frenzy as he chased the world record in the 100-meter butterfly. Ultimately, Dressel didn’t take down his record, but prevailed handily in 49.87 to ignite an electric atmosphere. The performance came on the heels of a semifinal clocking of 49.76, so there were signs something big was in the works. The second Team USA bid to the Olympic Games in Tokyo was claimed by veteran Tom Shields, whose outing of 51.19 held off Luca Urlando (51.64).

When Dressel’s time lit up the giant scoreboard that hangs over the pool, the crowd erupted in cheers. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, ticket sales were limited at this year’s Trials, with the facility a little more than half full. To the ear, though, and thanks to Dressel’s greatness, the venue sounded like a full house in full throat. Such is the influence of one of the sport’s premier names.

Since qualifying for Tokyo in the 100 freestyle earlier in the week, Dressel has been lethal. It is not to say his time of 47.39 in that event was pedestrian. As the No. 2 time in the world this year, it is not. But even the stars of the sport feel the intense pressure of the U.S. Trials, and Dressel has competed more freely in his subsequent events. The results have been scintillating times, even if the races have not been perfect. Dressel was critical of his final in the 100 fly.

“I thought the best one I had was my (prelim) swim,” Dressel said. “The (finals) swim was faster but there were parts I started muscling it. I had energy, but there were parts where I didn’t stay true to my stroke.”

Firing to the front of the field with his trademark blistering start, Dressel battled the clock for his two laps, the rest of the field left in his wake. The 24-year-old turned at the 50-meter mark in 23.16 and came home in 26.71. Dressel was vying to break his world record of 49.50, which he set at the 2019 World Championships.

The last world record established at the United States Trials was in 2008, the first time Omaha served as host. There were seven global standards at that meet, the last produced by Margaret Hoelzer in the 200 backstroke on Night Seven. It is worth noting that the 2008 Trials were held during the super-suit era, which spanned early 2008 through the end of 2009.

By touching the wall in sub-50, Dressel now owns five of the six-fastest times in history. The only other members of the sub-50 club are Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic, and in Tokyo, a sub-49 blast from Dressel is not out of the question. After all, as sensational as he has looked in Omaha, there is more to come on the biggest stage in the sport.

Just 40 minutes after Dressel won the 100 butterfly, he returned to the blocks for the semifinals of the 50 freestyle. Dressel turned in a time of 21.51 for the dash, which was quick enough to nail down the top seed for the final. Dressel was 21.29 in the preliminaries, when he was fresh and hadn’t worked a 100 butterfly less than an hour earlier.

Aside from putting on a show in the water this week, Dressel has demonstrated an understanding of his role as America’s go-to guy. He spoke eloquently to the fans during the medal ceremony of the 100 freestyle, emphasizing how hard work and determination helped him evolve from a 15-year-old whose best finish was 100th in 2012 to an athlete who will be a focal point of the Tokyo Games.

Then, after the session was finished, Dressel ran out to the deck and met with a young fan who had used marker to draw copies of Dressel’s tattoos on his arm. Dressel took a few minutes to pose for pictures with the boy and briefly chatted with him. Simply, it was an instance of Dressel recognizing the importance of connecting with fans and being an ambassador for the sport.

Over the next month, there will be considerable discussion about Dressel’s pursuit of a multi-medal at the Olympics. He is expected to race three individual events, the 50 freestyle to be officially added on Sunday at Trials, and see duty on four relays. If he can medal in each event, he would join an exclusive club of seven-medal winners in a single Games. The club currently features Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi. Phelps won eight medals at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, the latter Games in Beijing the site of Phelps’ eight golds.

When Shields failed to qualify for the final of the 200 butterfly earlier in the week, after barely dipping under the 1:59 barrier, there were legitimate questions concerning the veteran’s chances in the shorter fly. Shields, though, brought what he needed in the 100 distance and is headed to his second straight Games.

Second at the midway point to Dressel, Shields wasn’t looking for a drama-filled finish. His opening 50-meter split of 23.60 built a cushion over all but Dressel and enabled Shields to move comfortably through his second lap, with Urlando gaining minimal ground.

Shields has dealt with mental-health issues since his first appearance in the Olympics and opened up on social media in early 2020, noting that he tried to commit suicide. His decision to go public with his struggles was aimed at educating others about mental-health issues, and emphasizing the importance of seeking help and support.

“Trials is hard,” Shields said. “We train so much to think of the mind, not the result. That’s really hard here. It’s not like Pac 12 or NCAAs. Trials meets are very traumatizing. And people talk about the mental health side of this, and I’ve started to talk about it a little more, and going through this last Trials, it’s like, man, maybe it’s the Games experience. Because there’s that Olympic hangover. People fall on hard times. I know I did myself. But I don’t think it’s exclusive to the people that make the team. It’s the Trials experience and this whole value system. It’s hard to manage. I was thinking about that a lot this week. I tried my hardest today, just go have my swim, focus on what I need to focus on, but it’s really hard. And this is my fourth time doing it.”

1. Caeleb Dressel, 49.87
2. Tom Shields, 51.19
3. Luca Urlando, 51.64
4. Trenton Julian, 51.78
4. Coleman Stewart, 51.78
6. Zach Harting, 52.39
7. Tyler Sesvold, 52.60
8. Danny Kovac, 52.68

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11 months ago

Such an incredible time. I can’t run 100 meters that fast.