Former UF standout Caeleb Dressel, Gator junior Bobby Finke earn Olympic berths

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Former UF standout Caeleb Dressel reacts after winning the men's 100 freestyle during wave 2 of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials on Thursday, in Omaha, Neb.

OMAHA, Neb. — Caeleb Dressel locked up his spot for Tokyo, where he's expected to be one of the biggest stars in the Olympic pool.

Dressel romped to victory in the men's 100 free in 47.39.

He finally got a chance to shine on Day 5 of the U.S. swimming trials after a long week of waiting. When Dressel saw a “1” beside his name, he hopped on the lane rope, splashed the water and pumped his arms to whip up the crowd.

“It's a huge weight off my shoulders," Dressel said. “I'm excited to get the job done and move forward.”

In the wake of Michael Phelps' retirement, Dressel has emerged as the next big thing in men's swimming. After winning two golds medals at the 2016 Rio Games, he really shined at the last two world championships.

In 2017, Dressel captured seven gold medals in Budapest — joining Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win that many races at a major international meet.

Dressel followed up with six golds and two silvers at the 2019 championships in Gwangju, becoming only the second swimmer to take as many as eight medals after Phelps.

A giant picture of Dressel adorns the outside of the downtown Omaha arena where the trials are being held.

“All the fluff that comes with it, your name on the building, is cool,” he said. “But it adds a little bit different pressure to it.”

While Dressel isn't expected to swim enough events in Tokyo to challenge Phelps' record of eight golds from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he could be in the mix for as many seven if he's included on all the relays.

Dressel isn't thinking that far ahead. He's still got two more individual events at the trials, and he's heavily favored in both.

“You can't win five, six or seven medals if you don't qualify for the events,” he said. “I'm focused on qualifying right now.”

A fading star of the American team is still in the running for Tokyo.

Thirty-six-year-old Ryan Lochte, also a former UF standout, advanced to the final of the 200 individual medley, his only realistic chance to qualify for his fifth Olympics and redeem himself for the embarrassment of Rio, where he lied about being robbed at gunpoint during a boisterous night on the town.

But Lochte has his work cut out for him. Michael Andrew dominated the semifinals with a time of 1:55.26 — fastest in the world this year. Lochte was the sixth-fastest qualifier at 1:58.65, nearly 3 1/2 seconds behind Andrew.

Only the top two will make the Olympic team Friday.

The U.S. team added another first-time Olympian when Bobby Finke of Clearwater, Florida won the men's 800 freestyle, an event that will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

The Florida standout covered 16 laps in 7:48.22, holding off runner-up Michael Brinegar (7:49.94). 

"I am just so thankful for my friends, family and coaches here and back home," Finke said.

Kieran Smith capped of night five at the Olympic Trials with the 200 IM semifinals. Smith dropped 2.12 seconds off of his prelims time, swimming a personal best in the 200 IM. The swim gave him a spot in the finals Friday night after finishing third overall.

Gators in U.S. prelims

One current, one former, and one incoming Gator kicked off day five of the Olympic trials in the 100 free. Natalie Hinds shot out of cannon in the final heat of the 100 free finishing first in the final heat and fourth overall, earning a spot in the semifinals later Thursday, when she was a top qualifiers in 53.55..

Incoming Gator Micayla Cronk finished first in heat five, but missed out on the semifinals by six spots. Talia Bates finished second in heat three and 40th overall with a time of 56.24.

In the 200 back, the Beach brothers were back in the pool. Clark Beach went 1:59.70 to finish second in the final heat and fourth overall, earning a spot in the semifinal, where he dropped .93 seconds from his prelims time to finish fourth in the first semifinal heat with time of 1:58.64 and ninth overall, missing a spot in the finals by .16 seconds.

Ethan Beach finished with a swim of 2:02.90, good for seventh in his heat and 37th overall.

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