Caeleb Dressel Reaches Latest Test in Comeback at U.S. Open


28 November 2023, 05:32am

Caeleb Dressel Reaches Latest Test in Comeback at U.S. Open

The biggest men’s star racing at this weekend’s U.S. Open — the most decorated swimmer at the meet other than Katie Ledecky — will be seeded 10th, 41st and 48th in his three races. Of course, everyone in attendance in Greensboro, N.C., will be well aware that Caeleb Dressel is a seven-time Olympic medalist and the American-record holder in the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle (his three events at the U.S. Open), with a world record to his credit in the 100 fly.

All of Dressel’s entry times were recorded at U.S. Nationals, his only high-level competition in more than one year since withdrawing from the 2022 World Championships and taking nine months away from the pool as he sought to find a balance between happiness and his competitive pursuits. That meant his results at the qualifying meet, the most important competition for every other swimmer in the United States all year, were of little importance. “I am very indifferent about my results right now. I am kind of being pulled both ways — a little embarrassed, but fully understanding what just happened,” Dressel said.

Speaking with reporters at the conclusion of Nationals, University of Florida head coach Anthony Nesty said, “The people who came here to qualify for the meet, except for one DQ, did, and we’re pretty happy with where we’re at.” After his extended break, Nesty and co. had no illusions that Dressel would suddenly be back to top form and contending for World Championships medals and threatening world records.

Caeleb Dressel at the 2022 World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Nesty noted that Dressel was lacking his customary power, “which obviously if you haven’t been in the weight room for a long time, that shows up.” The coach added that while he was coaching his other athletes through the World Championships over the following month, he expected Dressel to put in time building strength in anticipation of beginning the new season with Florida’s other college and professional athletes in early August.

It’s been five months since Nationals, providing Dressel with his first uninterrupted block of training in a year-and-a-half and only his second such stretch since the Tokyo Olympics. Perhaps that will yield some quicker times at the U.S. Open, especially compared to his 2023 bests of 22.57 in the 50 free and 49.42 in the 100 free. Maybe Dressel will be able to contend with deep fields in the sprint events, particularly in a 100 free field that features five men who broke 48 this year, Hungary’s Nandor Nemeth, the Cayman Islands’ Jordan Crooks and Americans Ryan HeldMatt King and Chris Guiliano, plus 2022 World Champs bronze medalist and Florida training partner Josh Liendo.

But in the long run, Dressel’s results at the U.S. Open will not be consequential. The only meets that truly matter are the Olympic Trials in June and the Paris Olympics, provided he qualifies. Meets like this weekend’s in Greensboro are check-ins, opportunities for Dressel and Nesty to measure his progress in this comeback, one which his coach was confident would succeed even as Dressel was well behind the top contenders at Nationals.

“I think Caeleb has always done a good job taking care of his body. When you take care of your body, the longevity in the sport will enhance,” Nesty said. “We just need to get a full year of training in, a year of weights in, and I think he’ll be OK.”

If Dressel excels this weekend or in other in-season racing opportunities, perhaps at stops on the Pro Swim Series early next year, we will be reminded of his elite talent level and start imagining how fast he can swim in June. But if he is still well behind his competition, that won’t really matter. Not when talking about a swimmer with so much experience and such impressive results in his career.

Remember, Dressel was the undisputed top male swimmer at three consecutive global championship meets, the 2017 and 2019 World Championships plus the 2021 Olympics. The only other swimmer to claim that accomplishment in the 21st century is Michael Phelps. Whatever happens over the next six months, no one will be counting out Dressel in crunch time at Olympic Trials.

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