Caeleb Dressel won’t defend his 100m freestyle title at next month’s Paris Games, but after a third-placed finish in a storming final Wednesday at the US Olympic swimming trials he’s ready to make relay history.
Dressel won five golds in Tokyo in 2021, including the 50m and 100m free, and the 100m butterfly.
He took his career tally to seven Olympic golds, but stepped away from the sport abruptly in 2022 and is on the comeback trail after a nine-month break.
In the cut-throat US trials, where only the top two finishers in each event can claim individual Olympic berths, Dressel was squeezed out as Chris Guiliano triumphed in the 100m free in 47.38 and Jack Alexy grabbed second in 47.47.
Dressel was third in 47.53, not quite fast enough to defend his crown in Paris but putting himself in the mix for the 4x100m free relay, where after a look at the scoreboard he said a world record was possible.
“I don’t think we should shy away from it. I think the world-record is 47.3 average, so we’ve got a shot at that,” he said, adding upon closer inspection of the times: “Oh my gosh, top six were under 48. That’s pretty quick.”
The 100m free was Dressel’s first event of the trials in the mammoth Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
The 27-year-old still has the 50m free and 100m butterfly to come as he tries to return to the pinnacle of swimming after regaining his joy in the sport.
The 20-year-old Guiliano was already headed to his first Olympics after a runner-up finish in the 200m freestyle and Alexy, 21, punched his first Olympic ticket.
In other finals, 2016 women’s 100m free gold medallist Simone Manuel — on a comeback journey of her own — put herself in the relay mix and Katie Ledecky delivered another dominant 1,500m freestyle triumph to add another race to her Paris programme.
The 17-year-old Thomas Heilman booked his first Olympic berth.
Kate Douglass powered from fourth at the turn to win a thrilling women’s 100m freestyle final in 52.56sec, shaving one one-hundredth of a second off her personal best.
Torri Huske also came from behind on the final lap to finish second in 52.93.
Manuel, who after the 100m free in Rio missed the final at the trials for Tokyo as she struggled with the effects of over-training syndrome, finished fourth behind Gretchen Walsh.
Walsh had opened the meet with a world record in the 100m butterfly.
“It means everything to me,” and emotional Manuel said of a return trip to the Olympics. She can still book an individual Paris berth in the 50m free.
Heilman will spearhead the US challenge in the men’s 200m butterfly after a victory in 1min 54.50sec.
Trailing at the turn, Heilman produced the fastest final 50 to become the youngest US male swimmer to book an Olympic berth since 2000 — when 15-year-old Michael Phelps and 17-year-old Aaron Peirsol raced in Sydney.
Luca Urlando, 22, was second in 1:55.08.
Ledecky won the 1500m free in 15:37.35.
The world record-holder, who owns the 19 fastest times ever in the event, admitted she would have liked to have gone a tick faster, but she was more than 20 seconds ahead of runner-up Katie Grimes, who touched in 15:57.77.
“I’ll be better in a few weeks,” the seven-time Olympic gold medallist vowed.
Grimes, who had already qualified to swim in open water in Paris before the trials began, is now headed for double duty in the pool having won the 400m individual medley.
Matt Fallon, who agonizingly missed out on a Tokyo Olympic berth, left no doubt this time with a victory in the 200m breaststroke in an American record of 2:06.54.
Fallon clocked the fastest time in the world this year, surging from third at the halfway mark to beat Josh Matheny, who took second in 2:08.86 to give the US a couple of Olympic first-timers in the event.

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