GWANGJU, South Korea — Michael Phelps was watching from home in Arizona as Caeleb Dressel dominated the world championships.
The new American swimming torchbearer won eight medals, including six golds, at worlds, the biggest meet outside the Olympics. Two years ago in Hungary, he tied Phelps’ record of seven golds at a single worlds, including three in one night. Dressel set his own standard in Gwangju, where he again won three golds in a single night.
Phelps said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that Dressel would have to be perfect to win seven or eight golds in Tokyo. Phelps, of course, won eight golds at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“If there’s someone who doesn’t care how hard it’s going to be, how hard they’re going to have to work, how much pain they’re willing to put their body through, we might see it,” he said.
Phelps suggested that Dressel could be a “great addition” to the 4×200 free relay.
“Clearly, he’s got the speed,” he said. “At this point, he’s just got to have better endurance.”
Dressel still feels his retired teammate’s influence. He knows the 23-time Olympic gold medalist’s times and watched how Phelps swam his races.
“It’s really special for me just to have that one little moment where I claimed I was the best in the history of swimming,” Dressel said. “Just a young kid from a small town, it’s just crazy how far the sport can go.”
Like Phelps, Dressel is his own worst critic. The 22-year-old Floridian picks apart each of his races, whether the result is gold, a world record or something less lofty.
“I always look for the bad,” he said. “There’s plenty to improve on. I know what to look for heading into next year, even for small meets. I take each event, and I have to learn from it.”
What he learned in Gwangju is that he’s his own man.
Dressel’s golds came in the 50 and 100 free, 50 and 100 butterfly, mixed 4×100 free relay and 4×100 free relay. His other silver was in the mixed 4×100 medley relay.
Dressel took down Phelps’ world record in the 100 fly, going 49.50 in the semifinals. He came close in Hungary but didn’t get it done.
“Two years ago I was a little scared, I’ll admit, coming that close,” Dressel said. “It can be a scary thought to do something that’s never been done before.”
The difference in Gwangju was that Dressel woke up the day of the race and wanted to go after the mark.
“I hope he was happy watching me,” he said.
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