(L-R) Caeleb Dressel, Zach Apple and Mallory Comerford celebrate after setting a new world record in the Mixed 4x100-meter freestyle final at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 27, 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea.
Caeleb Dressel doesn’t yet have the household name recognition as Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky, but if his performance at the 2019 FINA World Championships was a taste of what’s to come at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, that won’t be the case a year from now.
The 22-year-old from Green Cove Springs, Florida, who won a pair of Olympic gold medals in relays three years ago, wrapped up the world championships Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea, with a record eight medals, including six golds. In the process, Dressel lowered American records in three events and set personal bests in all four individual events.
Punctuating the performance, though, was the world record Dressel set in the semifinal of the men’s 100-meter butterfly.
Swimming the distance in 49.50 seconds, Dressel eclipsed one of Phelps’ enduring and most iconic world records, which Phelps set at the 2009 world championships and during the height of the high-tech suit era. And not only did he break the record, but Dressel did so by .32 seconds.
That Dressel was just shy of tying his own 2017 record of seven world championships gold medals, which he shares with Phelps, hardly took away from what was a groundbreaking performance in South Korea.
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Here’s a look back at Dressel’s performances:
4x100-meter Freestyle — Gold (Sunday, July 21)
Dressel and Co. opened the world championships with a gold medal, with the U.S. team setting a new meet record of 3:09.06 in the process.
50-meter Butterfly — Gold (July 22)
This was Dressel’s first individual gold of the meet, and the one event he didn’t medal in two years ago, finishing fourth then by .05 seconds. He became the first American man to win the event and set a new championship and American record in the process with a time of 22.35 seconds.
4x100-meter Mixed Medley — Silver (July 24)
The U.S. finished just .02 seconds behind Australia, but Dressel’s split in the butterfly was 49.33 seconds, beating Phelps’ 10-year-old record of 49.72 seconds for the fastest butterfly split ever. The event makes its Olympic debut next year.
100-meter Freestyle — Gold (July 25)
His time of 49.96 seconds was just .05 seconds off the world record, but Dressel still set a new American record and put down the third-fastest time ever. He’s the first American to win back-to-back world titles in the men’s 100-meter freestyle since Matt Biondi in 1991. Dressel said after the race that there were probably some things he could have cleaned up, begging the question of whether this could be the next world record he topples.
50-meter Freestyle — Gold (July 27)
Dressel began his busiest day in South Korea by breaking his own American record and setting a new world championships mark with a time of 21.04 seconds. The previous mark had been set in 2009, during the high-tech suit era. More impressive than that, he became the first swimmer in history to win the 50 and 100 free at consecutive world championships.
100-meter Butterfly — Gold (July 27)
After smashing Phelps’ 10-year-old world record in the semifinals on July 26 in 49.50 seconds — and claiming his first individual long-course world record — Dressel came back the next day to win the event in 49.66 seconds, which also would have beaten Phelps’ record. This victory came just 34 minutes after Dressel won the 50 free. It marked gold medal No. 12 for Dressel and put him third on the all-time world golds list.
Mixed 4x100-meter Freestyle — Gold (July 27)
Dressel did his part to claim his third gold medal in two hours with a strong relay performance. He led off and joined Zach Apple, Mallory Comerford and Simone Manuel in lowering the world record, set by the U.S. two years ago, to 3:19.40. He remains the only swimmer to earn three golds in a day, which he also did in 2017.
4x100-meter Medley — Silver (July 28)
In his final event, Dressel actually pulled the U.S. into the lead in the third leg — his split of 49.28 eclipsing the record he set four days earlier in the 4x100 mixed medley — but the Americans finished .35 seconds behind Great Britain. With this medal, he became the first swimmer ever to earn eight medals at a long-course world chanpionships.
This performance, of course, leads to an obvious question: Could Dressel possibly tie Phelps’ record of eight gold medals in one Olympics?
Phelps famously achieved that feat in 2008 in Beijing in what goes down as one of the most iconic Olympic performances of all time.
Dressel will have an opportunity to try to match that next summer at the Tokyo Games, but doing so isn’t just a matter of bumping up last week’s silver medals to gold.
That’s because two of the events Dressel competed in — the 50 fly and mixed 4x100 free — are not on the Olympic program. That means Dressel would need to find two more events to compete in next year. Should be pursue this path, Dressel might consider adding the 200-meter freestyle and 4x200-meter freestyle, but that’s a question for another day.
For now, Dressel and several other top American swimmers are already turning their attention back home to Stanford, California, where competition begins on Wednesday at the national championships, which are part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.