Without Expectations, Caeleb Dressel Enjoys ‘Exciting’ Return to ISL

Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

Without Expectations, Caeleb Dressel Enjoys ‘Exciting’ Return to ISL

Caeleb Dressel didn’t know what to expect Saturday in his International Swimming League Season 3 debut.

For a swimmer who was refreshingly honest throughout his stellar run at the Tokyo Olympics, Dressel wasn’t blowing smoke. Four weeks removed from Tokyo, Dressel admitted he was out of peak racing shape, by his stratospheric standards. But he knew he wasn’t alone in that, so the calculus among his Cali Condors teammates and against his ISL competitors hardly changed.

“Before the meet got going, I said, ‘guys if you think you’re out of shape, you’re probably not more out of shape than I am. The person next to you is out of shape. Everyone’s out of shape. But that doesn’t mean to say, I’m not going to race tough and I’m not going to race as hard as I can and I’m not going to execute the best as I can, I’m not going to practice technique in the practices here,’” Dressel said Sunday via a virtual mixed zone. “So I think that’s what makes this team special, a lot of us are in the same boat, but we’re not going to just bow down because we’re out of shape or we don’t feel as good as we normally do.

“That’s why it’s exciting, it’s a whole new feel in the water, we execute the best we can and for how well we did, I think it just shows the background training for a lot of us on the team.”

Caeleb Dressel (photo: Mike Lewis)

Caeleb Dressel in ISL Match 2; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Dressel led a dominant Condors performance, the team scoring 707 points to romp to victory in ISL Match 2 over the LA Current, Tokyo Frog Kings and New York Breakers. Dressel admitted he wasn’t at his best, though when your best yields five Olympic gold medals, there’s a lot of room between that summit and the altitude at which most mortals reside.

But that’s part of the appeal of ISL in its first post-Olympics season. It’s not about times, as the broadcast hammered home multiple times. It’s about racing and showcasing the newfound celebrity many attained in Tokyo, with the attendant monetary benefits that are few and far between in the sport.

For Dressel, competition against the watch brings the expectations and pressure that were at times uncomfortable in Tokyo. In Naples, racing just the field instead of the entire weight of swimming history seemed an invigorating change. Though he talked in Tokyo about needing a break from swimming, missing out on ISL wasn’t really an option, as one of the sport’s most bankable stars and a leading advocate for the league in the bureaucratic headwinds it faced at formation.

Even if he didn’t know how his body would react to the challenge of racing on such a short turnaround from Tokyo, his mind and unparalleled competitive streak were ready for the challenge.

“I didn’t know how I was going to react to it,” Dressel said. “I was swimming in the Olympics four weeks ago, so it’s a pretty crazy situation to be in. But I kept falling back on, this is the best way in this moment, the meet I was just coming off of, to be with the Condor team. It really is special to me to be with them in the same boat, everyone getting back into shape, everyone finding their groove again. …

“I was excited to race again, which is weird. I never thought in a million years I’d be in that situation, especially coming off a meet (the Olympics) like that. I love the water. I love the sport. The stuff I think I’m still trying to manage is media, no offense guys, and just a lot of the attention. Racing is fine. I’ve never had a problem with the water.”

What Dressel accomplished in the pool in ISL Match 2 is a testament to his greatness and racing fire. He won four individual events – the men’s 100 butterfly, 50 freestyle, 100 free and 100 individual medley, with a 30-point jackpot – and finished second in the 50 fly. He added fly legs on the Condors’ winning men’s medley and mixed medley relays, and anchored the winning men’s 400 free relay. He was second in the meet’s MVP standings with 93 points.

Dressel’s emphasis wasn’t on times or chasing world records – he tossed a sidelong glance at that remark in the Zoom session to Coleman Stewart after his fellow Condor’s 100 back world mark. He instead focused on “being with my people,” in a team atmosphere where racing is the currency.

Sherridon Dressel (photo: Mike Lewis)

Sherridon Dressel; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Among the highlights was watching Sherridon Dressel turn in an outstanding meet, winning the women’s 50 and 100 backstroke and finish second to teammate Beata Nelson in the skins race. Caeleb Dressel and Sherridon had a conversation during the skins, where Caeleb said his main function was joke-telling and water-getting. And he’d prefer it if the label of “Caeleb’s little sister” was permanently retired for Sherridon, who showed again (as she did in a stellar collegiate career at Florida) to be her own swimmer.

“She rips,” Caeleb Dressel said. “It’s so exciting watching her swim, making her own name. Winning events, she won two events here, which is awesome. It’s so exciting for the girl. She’s only gotten better. I train with her, and I’m really scared of her in practice, especially in backstroke. … So exciting to watch Sherridon swim. We had two years together in college and it was awesome, and that was taken away from me once I graduated, but now I have it back in ISL and she’s doing it on a world stage, and it’s the most exciting thing to see.”

For all the time Caeleb Dressel spent this summer swimming to meet external expectations, he sounds ready to take the time in ISL this fall for himself.

“The goal coming here – and my coach was adamant, he spoke about this a few times – we’re just coming here to have fun,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. And I know you hear it over and over again, but even more so coming off the Olympics into this: I couldn’t be worried about times or a scoreboard right now, and I think ISL is the perfect place to go and get back into shape, get back into my groove, be around my people again.”