For Caeleb Dressel, eight gold medals in play after winning the one that got away

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When Caeleb Dressel won seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, the outlier was the 50m butterfly, where he was fourth. Dressel, after a difficult 2018 in and out of the pool, won the 50m fly on Monday, putting a record eight gold medals in play this week.

Dressel dominated in the non-Olympic event 22.35 seconds, the second-fastest time in history and an American record. The margin of victory was vast for a one-length race — .35 of a second.

“I’m not here to count medals,” Dressel said. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and forget about this.”

Dressel now has two golds in his first two events after leading off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle on Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea. He is a defending world champion in six remaining events — 50m and 100m freestyle (perhaps his biggest question mark against Rio gold medalist Kyle Chalmers) and the 100m butterfly, plus three more relays. He could be on the 4x200m free, too, giving him nine events.

Two of those relays are mixed-gender events that weren’t on the program when Michael Phelps set records of seven golds at the 2007 World Championships and eight at the 2008 Olympics. Phelps has said he’s not a fan of mixed-gender relays, but in 2017 he refused to say that Dressel’s feat was anything less than his own.

“You can’t take anything away from winning seven gold medals, right?” Phelps said then. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a relay or an individual event.”

If Dressel had it his way, the tattooed Floridian would have zero fanfare accompanying his recent rise.

“Being in the spotlight is something that’s important in the sport. It is inevitable,” Dressel said last week. “But if it were up to me, it would just be me, [coach Gregg Troy], no media stuff and just trying to go best times, really.”

In 2014, he quit the sport for five months under the expectation of being the nation’s top prep swimmer. He ultimately decided to join the University of Florida team and rewrote the NCAA record book before his breakout 2017 Worlds. Turning pro in 2018 brought more off-deck commitments, and Dressel struggled in last summer’s two major meets, winning two of seven individual events.

“It might send you to those dark places every once in a while, but it will test yourself,” said Dressel, who had perhaps the most pressure-packed role of any U.S. swimmer in Rio, leading off the 4x100m free final in his very first Olympic splash. “I like that from the sport.”

Dressel keeps grounded with interests outside the sport. He plays the drums, has one chapter left of his third time reading “Zen in the Martial Arts” and plans to go on a cruise with other swimmers later this summer.

“I really only have one little block of vacation time a year, so I like to spend it with my boys,” he said. “During the meet, it can be tricky, you can get caught up in your thoughts. I try to hang out with people when I can. I don’t want to be alone too much.”

SWIM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results

Dressel gets Tuesday off. The headliner will be Katie Ledecky, slated for the 1500m freestyle final, followed about an hour later by a 200m free semifinal. Ledecky was relegated to silver in Sunday’s 400m free by 18-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus, who is also in the 200m.

Also Tuesday, Lilly King will take on Russian rival Yuliya Efimova for the first of three events this week in the 100m breast, King’s trademark distance. The men’s 100m backstroke final features the last two Olympic champions, Americans Ryan Murphy and Matt Grevers.

In other events Monday, Brit Adam Peaty three-peated in the 100m breast, clocking 57.14 seconds one day after lowering his world record to 56.88 in the semifinals. Peaty, the 24-year-old Olympic champion, owns the 17 fastest times in history and is the only man to break not only 57 seconds, but also 58 seconds.

Peaty led a British one-two with James Wilby, who was 1.32 seconds back. China’s Yan Zibei grabbed bronze, while American Andrew Wilson was sixth.

Katinka Hosszu became the first woman to win four straight world titles in one event, taking the 200m individual medley in 2:07.53. Ye Shiwen, the eye-popping 2012 Olympic champion at age 16, took silver, 1.07 seconds behind. American Melanie Margalis was fourth, .21 behind bronze medalist Sydney Pickrem of Canada.

Canadian Maggie MacNeil, a rising Michigan sophomore, upset world-record holder Sarah Sjostrom in the 100m butterfly. MacNeil stormed past Sjostrom in the last 25 meters to win in 55.83, topping Sjostrom by .39. American Kelsi Dalhia was sixth, two years after taking bronze.

“[MacNeil] told me straight after, the first thing she said was, I look up to you very much,” said Sjostrom, who earned her first world title in 2009 at age 15.

Sjostrom owns the 10 fastest times in history and won the last three world titles and the Rio Olympics. MacNeil chopped .69 off her personal best, jumping from the 10th-fastest woman in history to No. 2 ahead of 2012 Olympic champion Dana Vollmer.

“I can’t really hold the last 50,” Sjostrom said. “I’m actually exhausted in the end. I’m absolutely surprised I went 56.22 with how I finished.”

NBC Olympic researchers Alex Azzi and Megan Soisson contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
Ironman
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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