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Caeleb Dressel gives away his swimming medals, keeps bandana

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Caeleb Dressel tossed the stuffed bear into the crowd and handed his victor’s medal to a fan at the recent U.S. Swimming Championships, but the blue and black bandana with cows stayed wrapped tight around his left hand.

“There’s no worldly possession that means more to me than that bandana,” Dressel said earlier this year. “I smell it. I kiss it. I don’t care. I sleep with it next to my head every night.”

Last summer, Dressel won a Michael Phelps-record-tying seven gold medals at the world championships, pushing the then-20-year-old into part of the void left by Phelps’ retirement after the Rio Olympics. Dressel swims at this year’s biggest meet, the Pan Pacific Championships, later this week.

Dressel was handed the bandana last fall, four months after his seven-gold performance.

It belonged to Claire McCool, one of Dressel’s math teachers at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, Fla., about halfway between Jacksonville and where Dressel matriculated, the University of Florida. McCool died on Nov. 20 at age 62, a little more than two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Claire had several bandanas she used for working out,” said McCool’s husband of 40 years, Mike. “I gave each of our [three] daughters one. I wanted Caeleb to have something of Claire’s, and I thought that would be appropriate the day of the [memorial] service. I figured there would be a lot of tears shed, and I wanted him to have something of Claire’s.”

Dressel called McCool his “life teacher.”

“They bonded like no other student and teacher at Clay High,” said Dressel’s younger sister, Sherridon, who swims for UF. “You could just tell she really, genuinely cared about each of her students. Not [just] how they did academically — obviously she was a great teacher — she provided support, encouragement in every aspect of life. I think Caeleb really needed that at points in his own life and just having that person to talk to and trust and just share that bond.”

In Dressel’s final high school semester in particular. From December 2013 to May 2014, the nation’s top-ranked swim recruit took a leave from the sport.

“I just needed a little mental break,” Dressel said in a lengthy sitdown in Gainesville in 2015, carefully choosing his words. “I had some demons I was fighting at that point.”

He confided in McCool.

“To know that he trusts me with secrets and the way he felt,” she said, according to WUFT TV in Gainesville in 2016. “It’s just something that is so special to me and is almost sacred.”

McCool was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, prompting a public display from the at times guarded swimmer in his sophomore season at Florida. McCool continued to teach in between chemotherapy sessions.

At the time Dressel was known for putting Bible verses on his cheeks at meets. For the February 2016 SEC Championships, Dressel replaced Isaiah 40:31 and wrote “McCool” on his right cheek. He drew a pink ribbon on the left. He broke his first American record in the 50-yard freestyle.

Dressel went on to make the Rio Olympic team four months later.

At 19 years old, Dressel had arguably the most pressure-packed duty of the Olympic swimming competition, leading off the U.S. quartet in the storied 4x100m freestyle relay. He lowered his 100m free personal best by .13 on his leg, sending the Americans off to an eventual gold medal over the rival French.

McCool, who was too ill to attend the Olympic Trials, watched from Florida.

“Just like any mother, she just thought the world of Caeleb and was excited every time he swam,” her husband said.

Dressel and his family visited McCool often in late 2017. In her last days at her house. Then while she was under hospice care.

“I saw her on her deathbed,” Dressel said earlier this year. “She was still the strongest woman I’ve ever seen.”

The bandana became a story at the NCAA Championships in March. Dressel walks onto the pool deck, holding it between his lips. He clutches it as he prays before mounting the starting block.

Then he lowered his American record in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and the 100-yard butterfly in his last college meet before signing with Speedo.

“She’s with me every race, and she will be until I finish my career,” Dressel said. “You can get used to the cow bandana for a while.”

One can imagine Dressel’s alarm, then, when he lost the bandana after his last race at nationals two weeks ago.

Dressel, who had deleted social media apps from his phone for the meet, reloaded Twitter and posted at 11:01 p.m., “I can’t find my bandana, has anybody seen it? I may have left it at the pool,” tagging USA Swimming and the two biggest swimming media outlets, Swimming World and Swimswam.com.

Dressel tweeted an update 14 minutes later. “I found it, it was with my caps,” with a hugging face emoji. The averted crisis came as news to Mike McCool, who was told about it this week.

“When you see [Dressel] go to the start line, he’s always got it with him,” he said. “It always means a lot to us. I’m sure it means a lot to him.”

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The Meaning Behind Caeleb Dressel's Bandana

"There's no worldly possession that means more to me than that bandana. She's with me every race."Caeleb Dressel has had a big reason to swim fast this week. 💙 Hear more about why this 🐄 bandana means so much to him ⬇️#GoGators

Posted by Florida Gators Swimming & Diving on Saturday, March 24, 2018

Blake Leeper, Olympic hopeful double amputee, has prosthetics ruled ineligible

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Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, had his prosthetic legs ruled ineligible for major international able-bodied competition such as the Olympics.

World Athletics made the ruling as part of a months-long case that will go on. Leeper confirmed Thursday morning a Washington Post report that he is appealing.

A World Athletics review group “concluded that Mr. Leeper had not established that his prostheses do not provide him with an overall competitive advantage,” according to a World Athletics statement. “Under the current rule [introduced in 2015], the burden of proof lies with the athlete to show that prostheses do not provide them with an overall competitive advantage.”

Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprints fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he be deemed eligible. A fifth-place finisher in the 400m at nationals usually makes an Olympic or world team for the 4x400m relay.

But when Leeper recorded that finish in Des Moines last summer, he was running under conditional allowance while his World Athletics case was ongoing. He was not ultimately selected to race at worlds last fall.

World Athletics said then that his nationals results would not be ratified because he had not proven that his legs did not provide “an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”

Leeper’s case is reminiscent of South African Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius won a legal battle to race on his prosthetics at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics in the 400m with a personal best of 45.07. He was eliminated in the semifinals at both meets.

Leeper lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds at nationals, a time that would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team.

“They keep changing the rules,” Leeper, who has been coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault, said last summer. “For somebody to try to dictate and tell me how tall I should be or whatever I should be running on I think is just really unfair.”

In 2018, the International Paralympic Committee said Leeper was running on invalid blades for its record purposes because he had yet to be classified under a new maximum allowable standing height (MASH) formula.

Michael Norman, the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year, said he had no issue racing with Leeper. But others in the past, when Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at worlds and the Olympics, said they wouldn’t have been so sure had Pistorius been running the kind of times that Leeper posted in recent years.

“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.

“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics, then served a cocaine ban.

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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