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Caeleb Dressel, miserable out of the water, at last can make splashes at Olympic Trials

Caeleb Dressel

OMAHA, NEBRASKA - JUNE 14: Caeleb Dressel of the United States reacts after competing in a preliminary heat for the Men’s 200m freestyle during Day Two of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center on June 14, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Caeleb Dressel could win seven medals in Tokyo, but he’s not qualified for the U.S. team yet. His first chance to secure a spot comes on the fifth day of the eight-day Olympic Swimming Trials.

Dressel is the favorite in the men’s 100m freestyle, the headline final on Thursday night. All of his three primary event finals are in the back half of the schedule in Omaha.

“These meets are quite miserable when you’re not swimming, to be honest,” Dressel said after posting the fastest semifinal time Wednesday. “You’re left alone with your own thoughts.”

Dressel, intent on not being defined by swimming, could have any number of things to ponder.

In the last two years, he recorded 36 podcast episodes with friend Ben Kennedy, hiked part of the Appalachian Trail, jumped out of a plane, visited hundreds of bees, got engaged and married to Megan Haila, bought a house and built furniture for it.

Yet while in Nebraska, “The most comfortable I feel is in the water,” said Dressel, who as a 19-year-old in Rio won two relay golds.

The next four days play a significant role in determining (likely confirming) Dressel’s gold-medal chances in Tokyo. He is reigning world champion and the fastest man in history in the 50m and 100m frees (outside of the brief super-suit era a decade ago) and the 100m butterfly (broke Michael Phelps’ world record).

His more questionable events are relays: Of the four relays that Dressel could swim in Tokyo, the U.S. lost three of them at the 2019 Worlds. But the Americans still made the podium in each one.

Dressel, who earned seven golds at the 2017 Worlds and eight medals at the 2019 Worlds (including events not on the Olympic program), could join a short list of swimmers to win seven medals at a single Games: Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi.

SWIM TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | Women’s Event Previews | Men’s Event Previews

A look at tonight’s races ...

Men’s 800m Freestyle FINAL -- 8:05 p.m. ET
An event returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, now that the Olympic swimming program has all of the same events for men and women. Will Gallant, who this year has chopped 8.39 seconds off his personal best, qualified first into the final. He’s followed by Bobby Finke, a pre-meet favorite, and Ross Dant, who entered Olympic Trials ranked 23rd in the nation this year. While Katie Ledecky has won every Olympic and world title in this event since 2012, a U.S. man last made the podium at worlds in 2013.

Men’s 200m Breaststroke FINAL -- 8:19
Josh Prenot, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, failed to qualify outright for the semifinals and then said he will be taking at least a year off from competitive swimming. Matt Fallon, an 18-year-old who entered Trials ranked seventh in the nation this year, was the surprise top qualifier into the final. He was followed immediately by the pre-meet favorites, in order of semifinal time: Nic Fink, Kevin Cordes, Will Licon, Andrew Wilson and Daniel Roy. Those top six were separated by .67 in the semis.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Semifinals -- 8:30
Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel was sixth-fastest in the morning heats in her first swim of Olympic Trials. She’s joined by the other favorites, including Abbey Weitzeil, Olivia Smoliga, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan. Top eight overall to Friday’s final.

Men’s 200m Backstroke Semifinals -- 8:43
Olympic champion Ryan Murphy and the top contenders are all here, including potential first-time Olympians Austin Katz and Shaine Casas.

Women’s 200m Butterfly FINAL -- 8:59
Hali Flickinger, who already finished second in the 400m individual medley, was fastest by 1.16 seconds in the semis of this her primary event. No. 2 seed Regan Smith, too, is looking to make the team in a second event here after winning the 100m backstroke. Katie Drabot, 2019 World bronze medalist (Flickinger got silver), missed the final. Charlotte Hook, just .19 behind Smith in the semis, could become the fourth woman 17 or younger to be in line to make the team. The last time the U.S. had four swimmers 17 or younger at an Olympics was 2000. The last time it had four women 17 or younger was 1996, according to

Men’s 100m Freestyle FINAL -- 9:09
The top two qualify for the individual Olympic 100m free. The top four make the 4x100m free relay team. Fifth and sixth are likely to get in the relay pool, too. No question Dressel is a significant favorite despite going just .01 faster than Zach Apple in the semis. This final was circled before the meet in large part to see if 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian could make the team, a year and a half after a testicular cancer diagnosis, but he was eliminated in the semis.

Women’s 200m Breaststroke Semifinals -- 9:19
Annie Lazor, who missed the team in the 100m breast by one spot, was fastest in prelims, by 1.72 seconds. Training partner and Olympic 100m breast champion Lilly King and Emily Escobedo, the other top contenders, were third and fourth.

Men’s 200m Individual Medley Semifinals -- 9:39
Ryan Lochte, bidding at 36 to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history, was second-fastest in the morning prelims, 2.23 seconds behind Michael Andrew. Can Lochte get into the final and hold off 19-year-old Carson Foster (.47 behind Lochte in prelims) and 2017 World champion Chase Kalisz (.66 behind Lochte in prelims)?

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