U.S. Olympic Trials: Officially On Road to Tokyo, Caeleb Dressel Powers to 100 Free Win; Connects With Crowd

caeleb-dressel-

U.S. Olympic Trials: Officially On Road to Tokyo, Caeleb Dressel Powers to 100 Free Win; Connects With Crowd

This week, the CHI Health Center can be considered the office of Caeleb Dressel. The venue for the United States Olympic Trials is where the 24-year-old is doing his work ahead of next month’s Tokyo Games, and on Thursday night, Dressel drastically increased his production – much to the delight of his employer, USA Swimming.

Following a first half of the meet that was relatively quiet, Dressel officially qualified for his second Olympics by winning the 100-meter freestyle in impressive fashion. The two-time world champion used his customary sensational start to bolt to the front of the field and stayed strong throughout the race, as a battle brewed behind him. When Dressel looked up at the scoreboard, it flashed a U.S. Open-tying 47.39.

Second place went to Zach Apple, also dipped under the 48-second barrier with a time of 47.72. Blake Pieroni (48.16) and Brooks Curry (48.19) also secured slots on the 400 freestyle relay. In fifth and sixth, respectively, were Bowe Becker (48.22) and Ryan Held (48.46), which means they’ll likely be extended official relay bids later in the weekend.

Prior to the final of the 100 freestyle, Dressel had seen minimal action. Thanks to a schedule that is back-loaded with the sprint-freestyle events and the 100 butterfly, he had only raced 400 meters and was getting antsy as the Team USA roster took shape. Ultimately, Dressel used his pent-up energy to beat the field and improve upon his 2016 runnerup performance in the event.

“These meets are quite miserable when you’re not swimming, to be honest,” Dressel said after the semifinals. “You’re miserable in your own thoughts.”

If Dressel was frustrated by his lack of activity, it did not show. Rather, he performed with a sense of hunger to get his program truly moving. With his spot in the 100 freestyle earned, look for Dressel to further excel in the 100 fly and 50 free, events that will set him up – potentially – for a seven-medal haul at the Games. Aside from his likely three individual events in Tokyo, Dressel could race all four relays.

Based on his past and what has been seen from Dressel in the past, it is clear that he has much more to produce at the Tokyo Games. A fresher Dressel means a run at the world record of 46.91, set in 2009 by Brazilian Cesar Cielo. In the final in Omaha, he was out in 22.46 and came home in 24.93. Dressel actually yielded ground to Apple on the second lap, where Apple split 24.70.

“I’m certainly happy with that,” Dressel said. “I thought that was one of the most technically correct 100 frees I’ve swum, so I’m really happy with my approach to that. Parts of this meet that are quite unfortunate. I wish the 100 free was a little bit earlier so I could get the weight off my shoulders, but I’m fine with where we are at right now.”

The sixth-place finisher in the 100 free at the Rio Games, Dressel will be the favorite for gold in Tokyo, despite Australian Kyle Chalmers entering the competition as the reigning Olympic champion. That identity for Dressel is supplied by his back-to-back world crowns and status as one of two men to ever crack the 47-second barrier.

Dressel has been on the path to Olympic-title contention since the conclusion of the Rio Games, where he earned a gold medal for his contributions to the American 400 freestyle relay. In addition to his World Champs double, he starred during the second season of the International Swimming League. And while the ISL is conducted in a short-course format, it provided Dressel with racing opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heading to Tokyo, Dressel has the second-fastest time of the 100 freestyle contenders, the top mark belonging to Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov (47.31), who is followed by Italian Alessandro Miressi (47.45). As for Chalmers, he just went 47.59 en route to victory at the Aussie Trials.

The 100 freestyle has long been considered the sport’s blue ribbon event, and Dressel has a chance to etch his name in history. As the University of Florida product continues to build his reputation, he will have a chance to join several American legends as a champion in the event. Already, the club includes the Who’s-Who list of Duke Kahanamoku, Johnny Weissmuller, Don Schollander, Mark Spitz, Jim Montgomery, Rowdy Gaines, Matt Biondi and Nathan Adrian – among others.

During the medal ceremony, Dressel took a moment to acknowledge the crowd and gave a motivational speech. He recalled sitting in the stands at the CHI Health Center as a 15-year-old in 2012 and gaining experience from his appearance, even if his races didn’t yield strong results. In five events in 2012, Dressel finished between 100th and 152nd.

“I pick and choose when I like to have my moments,” Dressel said. “I’ve always said if you win your heat, that heat is yours. You can do what you like, so I was excited. There was a lot of emotion wrapped up in that. This meet was prolonged a year. It was more than I just won a 100 freestyle. There was a lot of emotion in this. All the struggles through quarantine, finding pools to train at, all of that packed into one race. It wasn’t just a 100 free for me. There was a lot going on. A lot of outside pressure, which I’ve gotten better and better at ignoring. So it’s not just what you see. I was excited. I wanted to share that with the crowd. Right now, I’m kind of over the spotlight again, but for that moment I wanted to have it and share that with the people in the stadium. It was fun. It was fun celebrating with them, and it was a fun race with these boys. That was an ecstatic 100 Free, and I really enjoyed doing that with them.”

Behind Dressel, a solid lineup awaits to help the United States chase gold in the 400 freestyle relay, the likes of Held, Apple and Pieroni experienced in major international competition. Curry and Becker will be making their first appearance at a global meet.

“Coming into the meet, it was on my mind,” Apple said of earning an individual-event swim. “Five years ago, I was here and finished in the mid-30s in the 100 and 200 free and watched them name the team at the end of meet. I didn’t really like sitting in the stands and seeing everyone parade around. This has been a long time coming.”

Results:

1. Caeleb Dressel, 47.39
2. Zach Apple, 47.72
3. Blake Pieroni, 48.16
4. Brooks Curry, 48.19
5. Bowe Becker, 48.22
6. Ryan Held, 48.46
7. Brett Pinfold, 48.47
8. Coleman Stewart, 48.51

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