Caeleb Dressel is alive and well, and now the Olympic 100 freestyle champion

1 month ago 23

TOKYO >> Not to worry.

You can withdraw those All Points Bulletins.

Caeleb Dressel has been found alive and well atop the Tokyo Aquatics Centre medal podium Thursday morning, the new Olympic Games 100-meter freestyle champion.

Dressel, conspicuously absent from the 4×200 freestyle relay final a day earlier, won his first individual Olympic gold medal with an Olympic Games record 47.02 seconds. The Floridian had to share center stage with U.S. teammate and fellow Gator Bobby Finke who captured the 800 freestyle gold medal to become the first American male to win a distance event at the Games since 1984.

Unlike the triumph of Dressel, one of the biggest stars in the sport coming into Tokyo, in many ways Finke’s victory came out of nowhere. He was an Olympic rookie and in his only appearance at a World Championships in 2017, he failed to get out of the 1,500 free heats. He missed the 2019 World University Games after fracturing his left wrist and suffering a concussion in a scooter accident.

Finke was still off most people’s radar when he hit the last 100 meters in the final. A 28.59 split from 700 to 750 meters only moved him from fifth to fourth at the final turn.

“I noticed 10 meters out I was catching up a little bit of ground and that was the only motivation I needed to try and pass and get my hand to the wall first,” he said.

Finke out-touched Italy’s Gregorio Palterinieri by 14 hundreths of a second—7 minutes, 41.87 seconds to 7:42.11. Finke covered the final 50 in a blazing 26.39. The race was so close that Finke was unsure of his place until he turned to see the scoreboard.

“I had no idea,” he said.

“The best time I had going in (to the Games) was 7:47, and prelims I dropped down to 7:42 and here I dropped another second,” Finke said. “I had no idea I was going to do that.”

No idea also pretty much sums up the reaction of much of the swimming world a day earlier when the U.S. coaches left Dressel off the 4×200 relay, in what exploded into the sport’s first significant controversy of the Games.

Two of Dressel’s 13 World titles are in the 100 free. He won his 100 semi Wednesday morning in 47.23, the world’s fastest time in 2021 until Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov went 47.11 in the second semi. Dressel seemed to indicate his interest in swimming the 4×200 in Tokyo when he clocked a personal best 1:46.63 in the Olympic Trials last month. While Dressel scratched the event before the Trials semis, the prelim swim qualified him for 4×200 consideration.

“It’s shocking,” Michael Phelps, the 23-time Olympic champion, said in an interview with a U.S. television network. “You know, in my opinion, he’s probably the best 200 freestyler in the world. He can probably put up one of the best times that we’ve seen. Leaving him off that relay, to me, I think makes it a lot harder to win the gold medal.”

Caeleb Dressel of the United States leaves the pool after winning the men’s 100-meter freestyle final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Or any medal at all.

Without Dressel, Team USA finished fourth in the 4×200 freestyle relay, marking the first time the U.S. has failed to medal in an event it has won all but three times since 1936, including the previous four Olympics. Great Britain’s men won their third gold medal of the Games, finishing in 6:58.58, nearly four seconds ahead of the U.S. (7:02.43). Dressel’s Trials prelim swim was faster than Zach Apple’s third leg (1:47.31) for the U.S. in Wednesday’s final.

The U.S, women were more impressive in the 4×200 Thursday.

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An hour earlier Dressel took the 100 free final out hard, leading at the turn then holding off a late surge by Australia’s Kyle Chalmers, the 2016 gold medalist, to finish in 47.02, breaking the Olympic record of 47.05 set by another Aussie, Eamon Sullivan, 13 years earlier in Beijing. Chalmers was just four hundredths back at 47.06. Russia’s Kolesnikov claimed the bronze medal at 47.44.

And there was Dressel again for all the world see, on the medal stand, his singing the words to the Star Spangled Banner visible even through his Team USA Hannibal Lecter like face mask, the tears in his eyes just as evident.

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