Will Caeleb Dressel Go a Best Time Again: ‘I’m Doing Everything I Can. Some Things Are Out of My Control’

Caeleb Dressel

Will Caeleb Dressel Go a Best Time Again: ‘I’m Doing Everything I Can. Some Things Are Out of My Control’

Caeleb Dressel arrived at the United States Olympic Trials as somewhat of a question mark. While the seven-time Olympic champion showed signs of progress during his tuneup competitions on the road to Indianapolis, how fast he would be was an unknown. The uncertainty, in part, hinged on Dressel’s decision to take a nine-month sabbatical from the sport to address his mental health.

At Trials, Dressel took care of his primary goal when he arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium: Qualify for next month’s Olympic Games in Paris. That target was met when Dressel won the 50-meter freestyle and 100 butterfly and placed third in the 100 freestyle to secure a spot on the American 400 freestyle relay, which Dressel has powered to Olympic titles at the past two Games.

Now 27, Dressel didn’t approach his personal-best times in Indy, but his performances were strong. He went 21.41 in the 50 freestyle and 50.19 in the 100 butterfly, marks that have him positioned to defend his Olympic titles. Based on history, Dressel figures to be faster when it matters most – in Paris.

Will Dressel ever produce a personal record again? It was a question posed to him during his press conference on Saturday night, and Dressel – always introspective – went deep on the query. He knows he’s dedicated to his training and what coach Anthony Nesty asks of him. He knows what he wants from his events, too. But he’s wise enough to understand that a sport defined by fractions of a second isn’t always rewarding.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud. It really is,” he said. “When you’re 19, 20, 21, you keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. I’m still working harder than ever, finding outlets, finding every path I can take to shave those couple tenths. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do that. I’m really good at racing. You put me in a race, I will make it close, as close as I possibly can, even if I have to try to kill myself to get there. I will put myself in those situations. I think 100 free is a good example. I came up short. I was a couple tenths off my best. I don’t know. I’m doing everything I can. Some things are out of my control.”

Dressel isn’t the only one to wonder whether best times are behind. As athletes age and recovery becomes more difficult, it’s natural to look at past performances with uncertainty. Count Katie Ledecky in that category. The greatest distance swimmer in history, Ledecky’s top efforts in the 400 freestyle and 800 freestyle are almost eight years old. Her world record in the 1500 freestyle is six years old.

Still, Ledecky finds ways to remain driven. It’s part of the motivational process, and part of making adjustments as a veteran in the sport.

“I think every athlete as they get older has to learn new ways to set goals, learn new ways to evaluate their results,” Ledecky said. “And I think Caeleb does a great job of that. I’m sure he has his process of going about meets and setting goals and going through seasons.

“I think that’s something that I had to learn pretty early on in my career, just once you set the bar really high for yourself, your best times might be world records. They are for Caeleb. They are for me. And you can’t go world records every single time you race. I believed that pretty early on in my career, and it helped me a lot because I could break world records pretty frequently. But once you get to a certain time, once you get to a certain level, it’s not possible every single race. Just understanding that is important, and coming to that understanding is important. And then being able to still set goals that are really exciting for yourself, whether those are going best times or not. I think both are fine, and both can lead to some really great results.”

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