Caeleb Dressel

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Regan Smith caps another impressive swim meet with another historic time

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Regan Smith swam the sixth-fastest 100m backstroke in history, completing yet another impressive meet in Des Moines on Saturday.

Smith, a Minnesota high school senior, won the 100m back in 58.18 seconds at a Tyr Pro Series stop.

Smith, who lowered the world record to 57.57 leading off a relay at the 2019 World Championships, beat a field that included former world-record holder Kathleen Baker (second in 58.56) and world bronze medalist Olivia Smoliga (third in 59.25). Full Des Moines results are here.

“That’s my second-best time ever, so I really can’t complain,” Smith said.

That trio should gather again at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, when the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Smith’s Olympic prospects are pretty promising.

In Des Moines, she swept the backstrokes and lowered her personal bests in the 100m and 200m butterflies.

Smith, who broke both backstroke world records at July’s world championships, now ranks second and third among Americans in the butterflies since the start of 2019, though she may not swim the 100m fly at trials.

In other events Saturday, Caeleb Dressel outsprinted Nathan Adrian and Michael Andrew to win the 50m freestyle in 21.51 seconds. Dressel, the third-fastest man in history with a best of 21.04, also won the 100m butterfly on Friday.

Andrew won the 200m individual medley in 1:56.83, a personal best by .66 of a second. He remains the second-fastest American in the event since the start of 2019.

“It’s a relatively open event,” for the U.S. Olympic team, said Andrew, who previously lowered his 100m breaststroke personal best in Des Moines, rebounding after not earning an individual medal at worlds. “Try and make a statement to say, hey guys, this is a race we’re focusing on. We want you to know, we’re coming for it.”

Ryan Lochte, trying to make his fifth Olympics at age 35, was seventh in the 200m IM in 2:01.60. Lochte is the world-record holder and four-time world champion in the event. More notably for Tokyo Olympic hopes, he ranks fifth among Americans since the start of 2019. It may be his best hope at trials.

Madisyn Cox and Melanie Margalis tied for the win in the women’s 200m IM in 2:09.03. That’s a personal best for Cox by .66. Baker, who wasn’t in the race, remains fastest among Americans since the start of 2019 with a 2:08.84.

Olympic champion and world-record holder Ryan Murphy won a battle of the U.S.’ top backstrokers, taking the 100m in 52.79. Jacob Pebley, a Rio Olympic 200m backstroker, was second in 54.45, while 2012 Olympic gold medalist Matt Grevers was fourth in 54.62.

Simone Manuel and Lilly King took runner-up finishes in the 50m free and 200m breast, respectively, at a meet where top swimmers are not peaked as they continue to build up for the trials.

The Pro Series moves to Mission Viejo, Calif., for the next stop from April 16-19.

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Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Caeleb Dressel headline Pro Series at Des Moines; TV, live stream info

Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel
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U.S. swimming’s biggest stars gather at a Pro Series meet in Des Moines, igniting the run-up to June’s Olympic Trials live on NBC Sports and Olympic Channel this week.

Katie LedeckySimone ManuelLilly KingRegan Smith, Caeleb DresselRyan Murphy and Ryan Lochte headline the strongest domestic field outside of a national championships since at least 2018, if not the entire Olympic cycle.

Live finals coverage airs at 7:30 ET on Olympic Channel (Thursday) and NBCSN (Friday), streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. USASwimming.org live streams the rest of the finals sessions, including the 1500m freestyles on Wednesday and the last night of competition Saturday.

Some key potential Olympic Trials previews via early entry lists that could change:

Men’s 100m Freestyle (Thursday): Dressel, Nathan AdrianRyan Held
Women’s 200m Freestyle (Friday): Ledecky, Manuel, Allison Schmitt
Men’s 100m Backstroke (Saturday): Murphy, Matt GreversJacob Pebley
Women’s 100m Backstroke (Saturday): Smith, Kathleen BakerOlivia Smoliga

It marks Ledecky’s first meet of 2020. She’s expected to go for four individual events at an Olympics for the first time — the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, with the women’s 1500m debuting at the Olympics in Tokyo.

It will take a top-two finish to make the Olympic team in each one at trials. That shouldn’t be a problem given Ledecky hasn’t lost to an American in those events in six years.

Manuel, reigning world champion at 50m and 100m free, has recently been tested, even defeated by University of Tennessee senior Erika Brown. Brown and the rest of the NCAA stars aren’t in Des Moines as they’re preparing for national championships. Manuel’s top competition in the sprints should come from fellow world team members Mallory Comerford and Margo Geer.

Dressel, who won 13 golds between the last two world championships, has yet to race on the top domestic level in 2020. He’s entered in every stroke, plus the individual medley, but should focus on the sprint freestyles and 100m butterfly. Most of his top U.S. rivals in the 50m and 100m frees — including Adrian, Held and Michael Andrew — are entered in Des Moines.

Loche, a 12-time Olympic medalist eyeing a fifth Olympics at age 35, is also slated to race on the top domestic level for the first time this year. He’s been focusing on the individual medleys. Lochte is entered in the 200m IM with 2017 World champion Chase Kalisz and in the 400m IM with 2019 World silver medalist Jay Litherland.

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Caeleb Dressel not chasing Michael Phelps record 8 gold medals

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ATLANTA (AP) — In the post-Michael Phelps world, Caeleb Dressel fits snugly into the successor’s slot.

Coming off two dynamic performances at the world swimming championships, Dressel figures to be one of the biggest stars at the Tokyo Games.

Yet he is reticent to step into the spotlight. He puts up his guard when it comes to his personal life. He really has no desire to be compared to the winningest athlete in Olympic history.

“I don’t want to say I just brush it off, because I know it’s going to be inevitable,” Dressel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But that’s not why I’m in this sport. … It’s not to beat Michael. It’s not to go faster than Michael.”

Sitting across the table from Dressel at a bustling sandwich shop near Emory University, it doesn’t take long to recognize that he runs a bit deeper than many athletes.

“A thinker” is how his coach, Gregg Troy, describes him.

Dressel is an avid reader. His infrequent posts on social media are often quoted from whatever book has his attention at the moment.

“I can get the physical exercise done with practice and staying in shape,” he said. “But you’ve got to sharpen the mental side. I like to learn.”

Recently, he read Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.”

“The good thing about true perseverance is that it can’t be stopped by anything besides death,” Dressel tweeted.

Another recommendation from Dressel’s book club is “The Wright Brothers,” a 2015 work by historian David McCullough chronicling the life and times of aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Dressel was taken with these lines: “All were extremely proud of the brothers, not because that was the fashion of the moment, but because of their grit, persistence, and their loyalty to conviction. Above all because of their sterling American quality of compelling success.”

That’s a quality Dressel knows something about.

At the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, he joined Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win seven gold medals at a major international meet.

This summer in South Korea, Dressel picked off six golds and two silvers — making him and Phelps the only swimmers to claim eight medals at either the Olympics or the worlds. Most impressively, Dressel won three titles in a single night.

“He’s such a dynamic swimmer,” said Bob Bowman, who was Phelps’ coach throughout his career and now leads the swimming program at Arizona State. “The way he jumps off the block. The race is over when he hits the water. He’s so strong. I think of power when I see him swim.”

Now, as Tokyo approaches, Dressel is 23 years old.

The same age as Phelps heading into the 2008 Beijing Games.

But Dressel quickly shoots down any thought of making a run at Phelps’ most iconic record — those eight gold medals.

Two of Dressel’s eight events in Gwangju (50m butterfly and 4x100m mixed-gender freestyle relay) aren’t on the Olympic program.

He’s pondering whether to swim the 200m free at the U.S. trials, in hopes of putting up a time that would earn consideration for a spot on the 4x200m free relay. But it looks like seven events is the absolute ceiling he’ll consider for Tokyo.

Dressel shrugs off speculation that he might attempt the 200m individual medley, saying it just doesn’t work out schedule-wise.

So Phelps’ record is safe.

Not that it’s ever been on Dressel’s radar.

“It’s not about Michael for me,” he said. “It never has been.”

The third of four children, Dressel grew up in Green Cove Springs, Fla., a community just south of Jacksonville along the St. Johns River. He played a variety of sports, including football, track and soccer, but swimming was his destiny.

“To put it simply, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said “I don’t know if it chose me or I chose it. But I couldn’t walk away from it, even at the points where I didn’t enjoy it.”

There were certainly times when he struggled to find joy in the sport — most notably during his senior year of high school, when he was one of the nation’s top swimming prospects but shockingly decided to drop out for about six months.

Dressel clams up when asked about that time in his life.

“I genuinely missed it,” is about all he’ll say. “I’ve sort of beat around the bush with my answers. Maybe one day I’ll actually come out and give the full story. But right now, I’m not ready.”

He returned to swimming, of course, with a scholarship to compete right down the road at the University of Florida. That’s where he hooked up with Troy, the school’s longtime coach, and began a partnership that would produce some staggering returns.

Dressel earned his first Olympic berth in 2016 and led off the gold medal-winning 4x100m free relay team that also included Phelps, who retired for good after Rio with 23 gold medals.

Dressel earned a second gold by swimming the preliminaries of the 4x100m medley relay. In his only individual event, he finished sixth in the 100m free.

The last two world championships gave Dressel a chance to expand his horizons.

He’s gotten a taste of what it means to be one of the faces of U.S. swimming.

“He dealt with the pressure of being the star,” Troy said. “Now, I think, he’s kind of the complete package.”

While Dressel doesn’t seem to care much about medals, there is one possession that he’s never without at the biggest meets — a blue and black bandanna imprinted with images of cows.

It belonged to Claire McCool, one of his math teachers at Clay High School. She died in 2017 after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

The bandanna was one of several she wore while undergoing treatment. Her children each got one. Her husband, Mike, wanted Dressel to have one, too.

“It’s just something special that I get to hold on to that represents her, something physical,” he said. “I needed something physical. I’m glad I got the bandanna.”

But, like that time when he quit swimming, Dressel prefers to keep his bond with McCool close to the vest.

“I’d rather not speak too long on Mrs. McCool, if that’s all right,” he said. “Her classroom was a safe haven. I can’t tell you how many classes I skipped because I was hanging out in her classroom.”

While Dressel’s Wikipedia page says he graduated from Florida, he conceded that he’s still about 15 hours short of completing his degree in resources and conservation.

As his swimming career ramped up, he wasn’t able to finish his last few classes.

That gap in his resume gnaws at him.

“I want to have a diploma to hang on my wall,” he said. “Even if I don’t use it, I can say I graduated from UF.”

He’s got far too much on his plate at the moment to take any classes, though the trappings of stardom require Dressel to do things that aren’t exactly in his comfort zone.

Troy, whose stable of swimmers includes attention-craving Ryan Lochte, noted that Dressel takes a totally different approach away from the pool.

“Ryan loves the publicity and looks forward to it,” Troy said. “Caeleb could do without it.”

When Dressel is required to do a whirlwind promotional tour on behalf of a sponsor, like the one last month for Toyota ahead of the U.S. Open in Atlanta, it’s very apparent he would rather be somewhere else.

“I don’t know if you’ll really get to know me unless you’re close to me,” he said. “If it was up to me, it would be me, Coach Troy and the water.”

Yet Dressel recognizes this comes with the territory when you’re getting mentioned in the same breath as swimmers such as Phelps and Spitz.

The spotlight in Tokyo will be bright, that’s for sure.

But Dressel plans to keep his head down. He’ll be focused on those black lines at the bottom of the pool.

That’s when he feels most at peace.

“I’m not doing this for money, I’m not doing this for fame,” Dressel said. “For me, it’s how far can I push this? How fast can I go?”

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