Dressel books 50m free Olympic title defense

June 23, 2024
Caeleb Dressel of the United States looks on after the Men’s 100m butterfly semifinal on Day Seven of the 2024 US Olympic Team Swimming Trials at Lucas Oil Stadium on June 21, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. — AFP

LOS ANGELES: Caeleb Dressel shook off his doubts and booked a chance to defend his 50m freestyle Olympic title in Paris with a victory on Friday at the US Olympic swimming trials.


Dressel, whose five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 included the 50m and 100m free and 100m fly, booked his first individual swim in Paris after missing out with a third-place finish in the 100m free.

The victory capped a long, often rocky road back to the top for the seven-time Olympic gold medallist, who stepped away from the sport abruptly in 2022.

Dressel looked in vintage form at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL´s Indianapolis Colts, exploding off the blocks to win the 50 free in 21.41sec.

The time makes him the fourth-fastest in the world this year, a list led by Australian Cameron McEvoy.

"I knew it was one of my toughest nights," said Dressel, who would return to top the times in the 100m butterfly semi-finals in 50.79sec.

"(I was) not feeling great or anything special, so I just had to gut it out tonight."

With his wife, Meghan, celebrating in the stands with their four-month-old son, August, in her arms, Dressel checked the 50m free scoreboard and gave a mighty fist pump before acknowledging the crowd.

Chris Guiliano, winner of the 100m free and runner-up in the 200m free this week, was second in 21.69 -- with Matt King shut out of the Olympic berths by an agonizing one-hundredth of a second as he finished third in 21.70.

Dressel, 27, said his relaxed demeanor on deck in Indianapolis has belied some tense moments behind the scenes.

"There´s parts of this meet, I´ve had some very low lows," he said. "There´s parts in my hotel room that aren´t on camera, talking with my wife, talking with my therapist -- it has not been smooth sailing this whole meet."

But, he added, he´s trying to relish the good times after his extended break that refreshed his relationship to the sport.

That includes the warmth he´s felt from the crowd, which has topped 20,000 at the finals sessions.

"It´s just been fun," Dressel said. "I´m not going best times, I haven´t done a single best time, but just when I´m walking out, not even performing, feeling the love from everyone, it´s really special."

After coming a long way in the past year in terms of performance, Dressel said, he´s expecting more improvement in Paris in five weeks.

"We´re going to get faster, too," he said. "Looking forward to that."

Regan Smith capped a stellar week that started with a world record in the 100m backstroke final with a wire-to wire win in the 200m back in 2min 05.16sec.

Phoebe Bacon powered past reigning world champion Claire Curzan in the closing meters to take second in 2:06.27 and punch her ticket to Paris.

Smith, who set 100m and 200m backstroke world records as a 17-year-old in 2019, has endured her share of ups and downs since then but she heads to Paris as a contender in both backstrokes and the 200m butterfly, which she won on Thursday.

"I´m incredibly proud of this performance," Smith said. "I think it´s a night and day difference versus 2021 to now."

Carson Foster, Paris-bound as winner of the 400m individual medley, powered home on the closing freestyle leg to win the 200m individual medley in 1:55.65.

Shaine Casas had dominated the opening butterfly and backstroke legs to build a lead and still held a slim advantage as they turned for home after the breaststroke.

He delivered a gritty final freestyle lap to finish second in 1:55.83 and make his first Olympic team in his final chance of the week.

"It means everything," said Casas, who broke down in tears as he hugged Foster across the lane rope.