Tokyo – At an Olympics where some of America’s biggest stars have faltered, Caeleb Dressel has lived up to the hype.
Dressel won the first individual Olympic gold of his career with two furious laps of the pool on Thursday morning, winning the 100-meter freestyle against defending champion Kyle Chalmers.
Katie Ledecky got another hit over Arirne Titmus, but this time neither of them won gold. China beat both the Americans and the Australians with a world record performance in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
All three teams went faster than the previous mark, but it was China who won the second world record in those games despite a searing anchor leg from Ledecky.
As is his style, Dressel dove into the pool and took the lead. He was still in the lead on the only flip and rejected the Australian’s offer for a second consecutive gold medal.
“It means a lot,” Dressel said. “I knew the weight was on my shoulders.”
Dressel’s winning time was an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds – just six hundredths of a second ahead of Chalmers, who had to settle for a silver medal at the Tokyo Aquatic Center.
Dressel was overcome with emotion when he was subsequently interviewed:
“I wasn’t worried about a thing,” Dressel said. “During the race there is not much you can do. Whatever will happen will happen. I stuck to my race plan, so if I’m first OK, if I’m second OK.
Dressel’s first three career gold medals were all in the relays – two in Rio de Janeiro, another in the 4×100 free relay at the Tokyo Games.
Now Dressel has won a gold medal on his own.
“It’s very different. I guess I thought it would, I just didn’t want to admit it,” he said. “It is much more difficult. You have to rely on yourself, there is no one to get you out of a bad separation.”
Dressel climbed the corridor rope, a look of wonder on his face, and raised the index finger of each hand.
No. 1 indeed.
Dressel’s gold was the second of the morning for the Americans, who secured a surprise victory from Bobby Finke in the Olympic debut in the men’s 800 freestyle.
After Michael Phelps retired, Dressel became the dominant swimmer in the world.
He has put in a staggering performance in the last two world championships, winning seven gold medals in Budapest in 2017, followed by a six gold and two silver performance in Gwangju in 2019.
As important as these meetings are, they are not the Olympics.
He needed individual gold to consolidate his legacy.