Caeleb Dressel just qualified for his second Olympics, and his first since becoming a megastar in his sport. But he still feels like that 15-year-old kid, the youngest male swimmer at the 2012 Olympic Trials, where he also watched finals from the nosebleeds.
“I got to swim in the same pool as Ryan [Lochte],” nine years ago, Dressel said last week. “I got to swim in the same warm-up lane as Michael [Phelps].”
Now Dressel, after an unconventional teenage ascent, is the man turning heads in U.S. swimming. Phelps retired five years ago. Lochte is still around, and just might qualify for Tokyo at age 36 tomorrow, but is no longer a medal favorite.
Dressel won the men’s 100m freestyle in 47.39 seconds on Thursday night, prevailing by .33 over Zach Apple (who will also swim the event in Tokyo). Dressel is ranked second in the world this year behind 20-year-old Russian Kliment Kolesnikov, who has gone 47.31.
But the American does own the fastest time in history outside of the super-suit era of the late 2000s, a 46.96. He also owns the fastest textile time in the 50m free and the world record in the 100m butterfly, events he contests over the next three days in Omaha.
All told, Dressel is expected to swim six or seven events in Tokyo, when including relays, with medal possibilities in all of them. The list of swimmers to win seven medals in one Olympics: Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi.
Dressel isn’t one for medal counts. He actually gifted some of his 15 medals between the last two world championships, performances that catapulted him into the leading man role, to important people in his life.
“I don’t very much care for the spotlight,” he said before Olympic Trials.
Also Thursday, Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel missed Friday’s eight-woman 100m free final by .02. She was ninth fastest in the semifinals. Manuel has one more chance to qualify for Tokyo. More on Manuel here.
In other finals Thursday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger won the 200m butterfly in 2:05.85. She’s joined on the Olympic team by Regan Smith, who already made the team in the 100m back. Smith is also likely to qualify in the 200m back, where she holds the world record.
Nic Fink won the 200m breaststroke in 2:07.55, distancing Andrew Wilson by .77 of a second. Wilson was also second in the 100m breast and should swim both events in Tokyo. Will Licon was third for a second consecutive Trials, missing two Olympic teams by a combined .32 of a second.
Bobby Finke won the first Olympic Trials men’s 800m free in 7:48.22. Michael Brinegar, 1.72 seconds back, is set to join him in Tokyo, 45 years after his mom, Jennifer Hooker, swam at the Olympics.
The men’s 800m free and the women’s 1500m free were added to the Olympic program for Tokyo, so men and women swim all the same events.
In semifinals, Ryan Lochte qualified sixth-fastest into Friday’s 200m individual medley final, his lone shot to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history. Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, must finish in the top two to make the Games at age 36.
Lilly King, the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, was the fastest qualifier into Friday’s 200m breast final. She’s followed by training partner Annie Lazor, who was .07 behind. King already won the 100m breast. Lazor was third in the 100 breast, making the 200m her last shot at Tokyo.
Ryan Murphy, who swept the backstrokes in Rio, led the qualifiers into Friday’s 200m backstroke final with the fastest time by .66 of a second.
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