Throwback Thursday: When Caeleb Dressel Went 17.63 in 50 Freestyle; A Swim That Seemed Like Fiction

Caeleb Dressel. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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28 March 2024, 05:00am

Throwback Thursday: When Caeleb Dressel Went 17.63 in 50 Freestyle; A Swim That Seemed Like Fiction

By Dan D’Addona.

It starts with a few seconds of unbroken calmness, then explodes into a frenzy of speed unleashed into the water.

No record is safe.

No swim is truly unbelievable for Caeleb Dressel anymore.

The Florida senior assaulted the record books three times in one day. Each swim more stunning than the one previous.

Each brought a collective gasp to the NCAA championship crowd, a crowd that is used to seeing Dressel do the previously impossible — to others at least.

Dressel’s goal was to go a 17.6 in the 50-yard freestyle, when no one — himself included — had broken 18 seconds. It was a lofty goal, to say the least.

“I think there needs to be a fine line between goal-setting and laughter. I don’t think you should sell yourself short. This meet, I think 17.6 was the perfect swim,” Dressel said. “I am super happy with it. I got one of my goal times — 17.6. I wasn’t focused on 17.9, I was focused on 17.6 — that is what I thought I was capable of doing — maybe I lied to myself, I don’t know.”

Dressel knows now, and so does the world as he won in 17.63, more than a second ahead of NC State’s Ryan Held — the biggest margin of victory in history. Most of all his teammates that see the work on a daily basis lead to incredible performances seemingly every time he touches the water.

“It’s just jaw-dropping. Seeing everyone in the stands and they just don’t know what is going on,” teammate Jan Switkowski said. “It is absolutely amazing and I am so fortunate that can witness it every single day.”

It was stunning, and in addition to the disbelief of his fellow swimmers, and the fans in the stands, social media blows up every time he dives into the water.

Not that he would know.

“I actually deleted all of my social media, so I don’t know what people are saying. I don’t have a clue,” he said. “It is kind of nice actually. It is very freeing. I have done that this year, set my own goals and ignore all the expectations and what people expect me to do. That is where 17.6 came from. It was a number that popped into my head and I thought it was possible.”

This is what Dressel has done for swimming, he has simply made the impossible possible with every barrier he breaks.

And it isn’t just the performances that are stunning, it is the unique way Dressel gets the most out of himself.

It begins with a calmness completely opposite of the impending assault on the record books.

“I usually say a prayer. It is calming. I just try to relax,” he said. “I just want to be in control of my emotions. I want to embrace the pressure and thrive on it — be in control of the moment.

“I am the only person I can talk to behind the blocks, so I may as well talk to myself and calm myself down. There is really no reason to let your emotions get the best of you. If you can control that, you are really in control of everything. That is something I have really been trying to do, have fun. There is no reason to get nervous. I get to do what I love to do. It is another opportunity to race.”


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

During relays, there is a different kind of calm. Dressel can talk with his teammates, so he does, joking with Maxime Rooney before walking out, just keeping things light before the 400 medley relay, in which he of course swam the breaststroke leg — yes, the breaststroke.

And he split a 50.62, leading Florida to fourth (3:03.16).

It was a great swim, but that relay didn’t compare to the first relay of the day, when Dressel split a 17.96 in the 200 free relay during prelims, causing an audible gasp from the crowd.

“I learned from each one. The relay this morning, I was 17.9 with a relay swing. There was room to improve there and I learned something from that race. I kind of got the first-race jitters out of the way. I just learned from each one and went with the momentum,” Dressel said.

He then led off with a 17.81 in finals, leading Florida to the national title in 1:14.39. He was joined by Jan Switkowsi, who also won the 200 IM, Enzo Martinez-Scarpe and Mark Szaranek.

“The relay was great. I was super excited,” Dressel said. “At Florida, if you win a national title you go up on the wall of champions. The order we did it was me, Mark won (the 200 IM) last year and Jan won tonight. All three of us in a row. I could probably cry about it right now. We are going to be on that wall forever, the three best of friends. Then the relay is going to be right there.

“I am just so happy for Enzo. He actually had a note card above his locker last year. His was NCAA champions, 200 free relay. Probably the whole nation was laughing for that because we are not known as a sprint school, but we just proved the whole world wrong.”

Creating that line between laughter and goals helped the Gators to an unexpected relay national title and has led Dressel to what was thought to be unreachable — except by him.

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