Caeleb Dressel repeats as 100m freestyle champ at swim worlds

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Caeleb Dressel repeated as 100m freestyle world champion, clocking the second-fastest time in history on Thursday.

Dressel earned his third gold in four events so far in Gwangju, South Korea, touching in 46.96 seconds, just .05 off Brazilian Cesar Cielo‘s world record from the 2009 Worlds. Frenchman Alain Bernard also swam 46.94 in 2009, but that time was not recognized because his swimsuit was not approved.

“I know I was just off the world record, but really the goal was just to swim the best race that I could, and if that was the time I got tonight, I was happy,” Dressel said. “I’m going to talk to [coach Gregg] Troy, and I guarantee you the first thing he’s going to say is what we could have done better.”

Dressel prevailed by .12 over Australian Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers, who was absent from Dressel’s 2017 World Championships breakout due to heart surgery.

“I consider him a better 100m freestyler,” Dressel said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA of Chalmers. “I look up to him in that aspect.”

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Dressel previously won the 50m butterfly and was part of the victorious U.S. men’s 4x100m free this week. He also earned silver with the mixed-gender 4x100m medley.

Dressel won a Michael Phelps-record-tying seven golds at the 2017 Worlds, albeit two were in mixed-gender relays that weren’t on the program in Phelps’ era. Dressel can still win seven this week if he runs the table from here on out, and possibly eight if he’s added to the 4x200m free relay.

If Dressel is added to that relay, he could swim three events both on Friday night and Saturday night. In all of Phelps’ Olympics, he never swam three times in one session.

In other events Thursday, Katie Ledecky returned from illness to help the U.S. go under the world record in the 4x200m free relay. Problem is, Australia went even faster to win. More on Ledecky and that event here.

American Chase Kalisz took bronze in the 200m individual medley, .64 of a second behind Japanese rival Daiya Seto.

It marked the first time a non-American won the event at an Olympics or worlds since 2001, snapping a streak of 12 straight titles among Phelps (seven), Ryan Lochte (four) and Kalisz (one). Kalisz, who swept the IMs at 2017 Worlds, has the 400m IM later this week.

“This is when I operate at my best, when I’m from a behind position,” Kalisz said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ll be watching this race a few times next year.”

Hungarian Boglarka Kapas zoomed past Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters of the 200m butterfly.

Kapas kept the U.S. from ending a world title drought in the event dating to Summer Sanders‘ gold in 1991. Kapas clocked 2:06.78, slower than silver medalist Flickinger and bronze medalist Drabot’s leading semifinal times, and won by .17.

Australian Matthew Wilson tied the 200m breaststroke world record in the semifinals, clocking 2:06.67, two lanes across from the man whose mark he matched, Japanese Ippei Watanabe. They’ll be in Friday’s final, but Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot failed to advance.

Olympic and world 100m breaststroke champion Lilly King was absent from the women’s 200m semifinals because of a preliminary heat DQ.

American Olivia Smoliga won the 50m backstroke, which is not an Olympic event. Smoliga, who earned eight golds at the short-course worlds in December, edged Brazilian Etiene Medeiros by .11.

NBC Sports researcher Megan Soisson contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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