The biggest American male star of the 2020 Olympics is ready for liftoff. The literal and figurative question: How high can he go?
Caeleb Dressel insists that he doesn’t remember the number on his last measured vertical jump. “My strength coach has thrown out some numbers,” he said vaguely. But if you watch the swimmer do one of his trademark leaps behind the starting blocks before a race, it’s easy to believe you’re looking at someone with the athleticism of a high-level football or basketball player.
That’s the literal. The figurative: Can Dressel shoot for eight or even nine medals in Tokyo two years from now? Can he attempt a Phelpsian workload? Or even surpass Michael Phelps’ epic eight-gold-medal performance in Beijing a decade ago?
That’s asking an outrageous amount of anyone. But Dressel has inflamed imaginations after winning seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships.
“I had one good meet and people freaked out,” he said, trying to dismiss the hype. “I’ve got a lot more work to do.”
It wasn’t just one good meet, of course. Dressel followed up that breakout performance in Hungary by smashing five short-course American records during his senior season at Florida, further expanding the potential realm of what he can conquer.
Next week, Dressel heads to the launching pad toward 2020. The Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships will be held in Irvine, California, and USA Swimming will use the meet as its qualifier for all the major international competitions this summer and next – most notably the 2019 World Championships. After those events, the next big stage will be the ’20 Olympic Trials.
As part of the ramp-up toward Tokyo, Dressel told Yahoo Sports he is signing a suit and apparel deal with Speedo. The agreement will be announced Thursday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Speedo USA exec John Graham hinted that there will be performance incentives that are based on big goals.
“It’s a really good plan to incentivize him to be the best,” Graham said. “We want to enhance the sport of swimming and give Caeleb every chance to achieve his dreams. It’s going to be a cool ride on the way to the Olympics.”
What Dressel offers that even Phelps and Katie Ledecky cannot match is sheer speed – the Usain Bolt of the pool. He is a sprinter, known for explosive starts and spectacular underwater technique, the first man to break 18 seconds in the short-course 50-yard freestyle and 40 seconds in the 100.
Combine the speed with bright suits and a lavish set of tattoos (including a just-completed full sleeve on his left arm), and you have the flashiest swimmer on the planet.
“He has that really distinctive style,” Graham said, “and the bold look to match. Then you find out how humble he is. Athletes like him are few and far between.”
Dressel’s signing with Speedo follows Ledecky inking a $7 million deal with competitor Tyr. That somewhat surprising development likely increased the urgency of traditional industry leader Speedo landing the top American male. It also leaves 2016 gold medalist Simone Manuel as the last of the new, A-list professionals without a suit deal.
The 21-year-old Dressel wouldn’t divulge his schedule for next week at U.S. Nationals, but the list of possible events is lengthy: 50-meter freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke; 100 freestyle and butterfly; 200 freestyle and individual medley. He’s unlikely to swim all of those, but whatever the number is you can add the potential of four relays at the Pan Pacific Championships in August – also to be held in Tokyo.
“Everything is set up from here to Tokyo and beyond,” he said. “It’s fun to dream within the sport.”
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