Who is replacing Michael Phelps as swimming’s alpha male? Caeleb Dressel answered loudly on Saturday.
Dressel became who is believed to be the first swimmer to win three gold medals in one day at an Olympics or world championships, giving him six golds for the meet in Budapest.
He can match Phelps’ record of seven golds at a worlds Sunday in the men’s medley relay.
“The comparisons … are probably inevitable,” Dressel said in a press conference Saturday night. “But I’m not the same person as Michael. … My goal here is not to count medals. So, it’s a tough question. I don’t know if I welcome them [comparisons], but I know they’re going to come. I don’t think it puts any more pressure on me.”
The rising University of Florida senior captured the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly and was part of the winning U.S. mixed 4x100m freestyle relay in a two-hour span on Saturday. He received social media congratulations from Phelps on Instagram and Ryan Lochte on Twitter, plus a reported text from Phelps.
Also, Katie Ledecky finished worlds with her fifth gold (and sixth medal overall) by winning the 800m freestyle, but she was eight seconds slower than in Rio and followed by a 15-year-old Chinese phenom.
In the 50m free, Dressel clocked 21.15 seconds, an American record and the fastest time outside of the super-suit era. Brazil’s Bruno Fratus took silver in 21.27, followed by Great Britain’s Ben Proud for bronze.
In the 100m butterfly, Dressel won in 49.86, missing Michael Phelps‘ world record from the 2009 Worlds by .04. Hungarian Kristof Milak took silver in 50.62, followed by Olympic champion Joseph Schooling and James Guy sharing bronze in 50.83.
Finally, Dressel led off the mixed relay to an easy gold, being joined by Nathan Adrian, Mallory Comerford and Simone Manuel to break the world record by more than three seconds.
“It all goes back to training and just preparing for situations like this,” Dressel said on NBC. “College swimming, you’re used to swimming two or three times a night. … This isn’t just an accident. This is a three-year process.”
Before Saturday, Dressel won golds in the 100m freestyle, men’s 4x100m free relay and mixed 4x100m medley relay in Budapest.
He should anchor the heavily favored U.S. men’s medley relay on Sunday before taking an algebra test on Monday and then exploring Europe.
“I haven’t had much time to think tonight,” Dressel told media in Budapest. “As physically demanding as it is, mentally it’s even more straining. … Give myself 30 minutes tonight. I guess let it sink in a little bit, and then it’s time to refocus for that relay tomorrow.”
Though Dressel can match Phelps’ medal record, Phelps was unable to swim mixed relays as they were not on the worlds program when he won seven events in 2007. Mark Spitz also won seven golds at the 1972 Olympics without mixed relays.
“I wouldn’t put myself with that group yet,” Dressel said. “I’m still getting my feet wet in international swimming.”
Still, Dressel marked an incredible rise in the last year. The former No. 1 swim recruit in the nation, who nearly quit the sport three years ago, led off the Olympic 4x100m free relay to gold and swam one other individual event in Rio, placing sixth in the 100m free.
He qualified to swim in as many as nine events in Budapest, though he sat out one relay and placed fourth in the 50m butterfly.
Also Saturday, Australian Emily Seebohm won Australia’s first gold medal of the meet by repeating as 200m backstroke champion. Seebohm clocked a national record 2:05.68 to win by .17 over Katinka Hosszu. American Kathleen Baker picked up bronze.
Swede Sarah Sjöström won the 50m butterfly in 24.60 seconds, topping Dutchwoman Ranomi Kromowidjojo by a whopping .78. Farida Osman won Egypt’s first Olympic or world swimming medal with a bronze.
Sjöström clocked the second-fastest time ever and now holds the 12 fastest times ever in the non-Olympic event. She later broke the world record in the 50m freestyle semifinals, giving her four current world records (50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles).
Lilly King led the qualifiers into Sunday’s 50m breaststroke final by breaking her American record with a 29.60. She’ll be bordered by Russian rival Yulia Efimova, the No. 2 seed, in the final.
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Men’s 50m Freestyle Results
Gold: Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 21.15
Silver: Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.27
Bronze: Ben Proud (GBR) — 21.43
4. Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 21.46
5. Pawel Juraszek (POL) — 21.47
6. Ari-Pekka Liukkonen (FIN) — 21.67
7. Kristian Gkolomeev (GRE) — 21.73
8. Cesar Cielo (BRA) — 21.83
Men’s 100m Butterfly Results
Gold: Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 49.86
Silver: Kristof Milak (HUN) — 50.62
Bronze: Joseph Schooling (SGP) — 50.83
Bronze: James Guy (GBR) — 50.83
5. Laszlo Cseh (HUN) — 50.92
6. Li Zhuhao (CHN) — 50.96
7. Grant Irvine (AUS) — 51.00
8. Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 51.16