Florida senior swimmer Caeleb Dressel knows that comparisons are inevitable.
Dressel joined elite company with his seven gold medal performance over the summer at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. The seven golds equaled a record in a world championship event, first set by Michael Phelps in 2007. And Dressel one-upped Phelps by becoming the first swimmer to win three golds in one day in an international meet, winning the 50 meter freestyle, 100 meter butterfly and 4×100 mixed freestyle in a two-hour span.
The breakout performance cemented Dressel as the new face of USA swimming while drawing parallels to Phelps.
“I had a good meet and then people are going to talk and make comparisons,” Dressel said. “I’m going to stay my own course, stay focused on what my own goals are.”
In the short term, Dressel’s goals are to enjoy his senior season at Florida while helping lead the Gator swim team to another stellar season. Earlier this month, Dressel was named the Honorary Mr. Two Bits for UF football’s home opener against Tennessee at The Swamp.
“I was completely honored to be given that privilege,” Dressel said. “I don’t know why they chose me, but man, it was a heckuva experience. I’d do it again if they asked me to. To be in front of that many people, with my school, that made it much more special.”
Last weekend, Dressel helped lead the Florida men’s swim team to a win in UF’s All-Florida invite meet. Dressel won the 100 freestyle at the meet with a time of 44.59 seconds.
Florida swimming coach Gregg Troy said Dressel’s excellence rubs off on the rest of UF’s swimmers in a subtle way.
“On a day-to-day basis, Caeleb is a very likeable guy,” Troy said. “He has leadership characteristics without trying to, he’s one of those guys that people are drawn too, they like him. He goes about his business in a very unassuming manner. So it elevates everyone’s expectation.”
Dressel credited Troy for his record-setting meet in Budapest, saying that a strict summer training routine helped provide him the stamina to cap off the event with three golds on the final night.
“A plethora of different things that made up that night,” Dressel said. “You can’t limit it to one single factor. I don’t know if you would call it getting in the zone, I think that’s more like right before the race. I think it was just proper planning on (Coach) Troy’s part, and then taking it one race at a time, one step at a time, just being patient through that night.”
Said Troy: “We knew there was a real challenge in the order with a lot of doubles so for a short-term perspective we trained with the idea we had to manage that type of program.”
Dressel, who turned 21 in August, is on track to earn his degree in resources and conservation in UF’s school of agriculture. He still dabbles in making videos for his YouTube channel, though not as frequently as he did before the 2016 Olympics. Asked if movie making could be in his future post swimming, Dressel replied: “Maybe, or maybe I’ll be too old by then to do the dumb stuff I do in my videos.”
Florida has not won a national title in men’s swimming since 1984, but there is hope a team led by Dressel this season can contend for a national championship. It will take a collective effort. Dressel said he’s willing to lead if necessary, but doesn’t want to be the focal point of the season.
“I don’t want any special treatment just because someone is swimming faster than other people,” Dressel said. “I don’t think that’s fair. I think the people that the young ones should look up to are the people that are able to lead, able to prove and stand by their word and to get work done in practice. And there’s plenty of guys on this team that can go around, but if I can be a guy they can look up to for advice, I’ll do my best.”
Troy said success hasn’t changed Dressel’s approach. Dressel won two gold medals in relay events in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and is expected to win more when he hits his prime in the 2020 Games in Tokyo. But for now, Dressel said his focus is on taking in his senior year at UF.
“What has kind of made him exceptional, to this point every time that he’s done well, he’s come back the same person but taken the starting point to a new level,” Troy said. “So many times an athlete has success and takes a step back and think they’ve already arrived and it’s a constant journey, it’s never a destination.
“He’ll have a target on his back this year, for sure. He’s just a really good competitor that is really goal oriented. Whatever we get, we’re gonna take and move forward.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.