NewsCaeleb Dressel

Caeleb Dressel and U.S. Men End Tokyo Games With More Golds—And A World Record

by Peggy Shinn

Ryan Murphy and Caeleb Dressel react after winning the gold medal and breaking the world record in the Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final on Aug. 1, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.


TOKYO — Caeleb Dressel is as humble and understated as they come. He gives others credit before accepting it himself, and he preferred it when no one knew his name.

At the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Dressel let his swimming do the talking, and now everyone knows his name. 
On the final morning of competition at the Tokyo Aquatic Center, Dressel set an Olympic record in the men’s 50-meter freestyle. He led swimming’s “splash and dash” from start to finish, touching the wall in 21.07, almost a half-second ahead of silver medalist Florent Manaudou from France (2012 gold medalist in the 50 freestyle). It was the largest winning margin in a men’s Olympic 50 free ever and dropped the Olympic record by over a quarter-second.

Bruno Fratus from Brazil, a two-time world championship runner-up to Dressel in the 50, filled out the podium.
Just over an hour later, Dressel helped the U.S. men win a gold medal in the men’s 4x100-meter medley relay, breaking a 12-year-old world record in the process. They were swimming in lane 1 and had been labeled underdogs.

Ryan Murphy, Michael Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and Zach Apple pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final on Aug. 1, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.


The U.S. team of Olympic gold medalists Ryan Murphy, Zach Apple, and Dressel, plus Michael Andrew swimming breaststroke swam medley relay in 3:26.78, beating the favored British team by 0.73 seconds and smashing the world record by a half-second. That world record had been set at the 2009 world championships by a U.S. team that included Michael Phelps.

The Italians touched the wall in third for the bronze medal.

It was the perfect end to the Tokyo Olympic Games for Dressel, where he added five gold medals to the two that he won swimming relays at the 2016 Rio Games.

“In the Olympics, there is a whirlwind of emotions,” said Dressel. “It's really a challenge to move in and out of all these emotions and step up to each race with a clear mind. To come out at the end of this meet with the world record, with a gold medal alongside these guys, I couldn't ask for anything better.”

Now with a total of seven Olympic gold medals, Dressel moved into the pantheon of Olympic swimmers. Only two other male swimmers have won gold medals in three or more individual events in one Games: Mark Spitz won four individual events at the 1972 Games, and Michael Phelps did it twice (four in 2004 and five in 2008).

But it wasn’t easy. Dressel was nervous before races. He probably lost 10 pounds this week, he said, unable to sleep, eat, or nap, and he was shaking all the time. 

“It's not the most enjoyable process, but it is worth it,” he confessed. “Every part of it is worth it. Just because it's bad doesn't mean it's not worth it.”

Despite his nerves, Dressel got on a roll this week, anchoring the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay to the gold medal on Monday, then three days later winning the 100 freestyle for his first individual gold medal.

That medal “just freed him up to swim,” said U.S. men’s coach Dave Durden. “It's hard. Everyone knows it's hard. Then once you do it, it's a deep, deep exhale, and then he can go after it.”

With four of his six races scheduled in the final two days of the Olympic meet, Dressel made a tough schedule look easy, setting a world record in the 100 butterfly yesterday, then the Olympic record in the 50 freestyle today. Dressel is the two-time defending world champion in the 50 free.

The only loss he has suffered in Olympic competition was the U.S.’s fifth-place finish in the mixed medley relay, which Dressel anchored. The mixed relay had just finished when Murphy — who had swum the backstroke leg — leaned down and told Dressel, “We got business to take care of.”

“I was still in the water,” Dressel guffawed. “I had not even gotten out of water, and Ryan’s already talking about the medley relay. That's how we work here. We knew we had a shot of doing something special today.”

Last night, the four men chosen for the medley relay met with U.S. coaches, who had written splits on a board. If Murphy could swim the backstroke in a similar time to his bronze-medal-winning performance earlier in the week, and if Andrew could do the same in breaststroke, Dressel in butterfly, and Apple in freestyle, then the U.S. had a chance to break the world record.

“That's all the hype we needed,” said Murphy. “We were really excited to go into that race, really excited to show what we could do.”

When told that only Mark Spitz and Phelps have won more Olympic gold medals in one Olympic Games, Dressel downplayed the comparison. 

“For me to have my little stamp on the sport, of course it's special,” he said. “I don't want to take anything away from Michael, I don't want to take anything away from Mark. It's not my goal to beat anybody in particular, it's about achieving what I feel like my potential is.”

Abbey Weitzeil, Lydia Jacoby, Regan Smith and Torri Huske react after competing in the Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final on Aug. 1, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.


Just before the U.S. men ended 2020 Olympic swimming competition with the gold medal, the U.S. women’s medley relay team came close to winning a gold of their own. 

Facing one of the greatest women’s teams ever from Australia — including Emma McKeon, who won seven Olympic medals in Tokyo and now has 11 total — the U.S. women came oh-so-close to winning the medley relay for an 11th time in Olympic history.

But they were passed by the Australians in the final lap. The Aussies won their third gold medal in an Olympic medley relay, breaking the Olympic record with a time of 3:51.60. 

The U.S. team of Regan Smith, Lydia Jacoby, Torri Huske, and Abbey Weitzeil also broke the Olympic record — set by the U.S. women at the 2012 Games — finishing in 3:51.73 for the silver medal.
With three Olympic rookies on the relay team (who are also teenagers), the silver medal was an accomplishment. Gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke earlier in the week, Jacoby had never even done a relay at such a big meet. Her teammates had taught her how to start a relay during the pre-Olympic training camp. Then Jacoby’s goggles had come off during the mixed medley relay yesterday.

This time, her goggles stayed put, and Jacoby pulled the U.S. team into a half-second lead over Australia.

“I don't think anyone's ever been happier to have their goggles on when they hit the water,” Jacoby exclaimed.

Huske, who had also competed in the mixed medley relay, then increased the team’s lead in the butterfly. But Weitzeil faced former 100-meter freestyle world record holder Cate Campbell in the anchor leg. The American fought valiantly but came up just 0.13 seconds short.

“The goal is always gold,” said Weitzeil, the only Olympic veteran on the U.S. medley relay team. “We have high standards here on Team USA for ourselves. So it hits you at the wall when you don't see the gold next to your team.”

But then she put it into perspective. 

“We're racing the best in the world, and we're so close to being gold,” she added. “We're just so proud of ourselves."

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered six Olympic Games. She has contributed to since its inception in 2008.