'Terrified' Dressel says he's not chasing Olympic greats

general01 August 2021 08:04| © AFP
Caeleb Dressel © Gallo Images

US swim star Caeleb Dressel rejected comparisons with Olympic greats Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz after claiming his fifth Tokyo gold on Sunday, revealing he was "terrified" by the pressure to perform in Japan.

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Dressel ended his Tokyo campaign with victories in the 50m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay to become only the fifth swimmer to win five gold medals at a single Olympics.

The feat puts the 24-year-old -- who also won two relay golds at the 2016 Games in Rio -- alongside Americans Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi, as well as East Germany's Kristin Otto.

But the Florida-based speed demon, who said he feared being regarded as a relay specialist after Rio, said hauling in the records set by the sport's legends was not his motivation.

"For me to have my little stamp on the sport, of course it's special," he said.

"(But) I don't want to take anything away from Michael, I don't want to take anything away from Mark. Of course I'm happy with how I did here. It's not my goal to beat anybody in particular, it's about achieving what I feel my potential is."

Dressel said his overriding emotion was relief after a hectic final session in which he set an Olympic record in the 50m freestyle then helped the US team smash the medley relay world record.

He also broke his own world record in the 100m butterfly on Saturday with a time of 49.45sec.


The American arrived in Japan with the swimming world abuzz at an ambitious schedule with the potential to turn him into the sport's next superstar.

While he achieved his goals, with the exception of a fifth place in the mixed 4x100m mixed relay, Dressel said he found the Olympic stage more daunting than he expected.

"The Olympics are different, I'll admit that now and stop lying to myself," he said.

"There's so much pressure in one moment. Your whole life boils down to a moment that can take 20 or 40 seconds, how crazy is that?

"I wouldn't tell myself this during the meet, but looking back it's terrifying."

Dressel said he used his "game face" during competition but the emotions came pouring out when it was finally over and the US held off a strong challenge from Britain to win the medley relay in a world record time of 3min 26.78sec.

Pumping his fists in the air, Dressel embraced his team-mates at the poolside and roared with delight.

Earlier, there were no signs of nerves as he lined up for the 50m freestyle final, an event the American has dominated in recent years.

He never looked under threat, confirming his status as the world's fastest swimmer with an Olympic-record 21.07sec.

Dressel had his usual powerful start and no one was going to stop him in the one-lap race as he continues to threaten Cesar Cielo's 2009 world record of 20.91, set in the supersuit era.

While looking forward to competing at the Paris Games in 2024, Dressel said his immediate priority was to take a break from the pool and spend time with his family.

"I'm a bit over swimming right now.... I really appreciated my time here, not because every moment was good, but because from every moment I think I gained experience," he said.