Caleb Dressel was surprised at what he missed after eight months without being able to swim. Some were simple, like blowing bubbles in the water or feeling his toes against the grip tape on the starting blocks. But he also missed chlorine, a swimmer’s natural enemy, and the dry skin that comes from spending hours in the pool.
“I missed all the pieces,” Dressel, 26, said. “So I knew I was ready to go back because I didn’t have to and I wanted to.”
A seven-time Olympic gold medalist, Dressel was for several years reigning as the best sprinter in the world. But last June, he abruptly withdrew from the world championships due to an undisclosed health problem, and disappeared from the sport and the spotlight. Other than a social media post last September, she didn’t speak publicly about her absence until she returned to elite swimming at the U.S. Championships this week.
Dressel’s performance reflected a long hiatus from the pool. The 50m and 100m freestyle preliminary swims, the events she won at the Tokyo Olympics and holds the US record, came too late to reach the finals. Her best result in four events was third in the 50m butterfly, which was not enough for her to qualify for the next World Championships.
Dressel will be left out of the US team for the biggest international event of the year for the first time since he emerged as men’s swimming’s new young star in 2016, when Michael Phelps was preparing to retire. . But not so long ago, Dressel wasn’t even sure he’d be back on the water again, so the match was more important than the result.
“I always had a smile on my face during the race,” he said. “It’s a different feeling to race because you don’t want to embarrass yourself and actually enjoy it.
Dressel’s goal is to get back in shape to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. He stressed that the fight still has a long way to go physically, but the mental side will be more important, he said.
Dressel declined to say why she withdrew from last year’s world championships in Budapest, but said it was inevitable that she would be out of the sport.
“Simply put, my body was keeping score,” he said. “There was so much going on that I really had no choice because it all boiled down.”
Anthony Nesty, Dressel’s coach at the Gator Swim Club in Florida, cites the extra pressure on Dressel, the face of American men’s swimming, as a sprinter to get away from it and focus on himself. He said he needed time. Nesty said the presence of Dressel’s therapist was also part of Dressel’s decision to be ready to return to competition earlier this year.
“Mental health is a serious issue and everyone deals with it differently,” said Nesty. “Sometimes it takes a long time to recover.”
In recent years, elite athletes have become more open about the mental health issues that come with the pressures of sport. Nearing the end of his swimming career, Phelps began to talk about the anxiety and depression he experienced becoming the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, while gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Osaka. Both Naomi stepped away from the sport to focus. about their well-being. Last week, swimmer Lydia Jacoby revealed for the first time that she experienced depression after winning gold in the 100m breaststroke at the Tokyo Olympics.
Jacoby struggled with his sudden rise to stardom at age 17 and seeing swimming as a career rather than a passion, but before missing out on a spot at the last World Championships he said he was “denying, denying, denying” depression. I kept pushing the button,” he said. Year. She took a break from training last summer and is working with a therapist. Jacoby said she felt she was back to being a swimmer when she was in Tokyo after she finished second in the 100-meter breaststroke and qualified for the United States at this year’s World Championships. she said it’s starting.
Without Dressel, the 52-man U.S. World Championships team includes familiar faces like Katie Ledecky, who swam third in the 800m freestyle en route to her sixth World Championships, and a few others. It also included newcomers to
Sixteen-year-old Thomas Heilman from Virginia came in second in the 100m and 200m butterfly events, becoming the youngest male swimmer since Phelps to qualify for the U.S. World Championships team. Heilmann, who says he’s cheered up by watching YouTube videos of Phelps and Dressel’s old races, swam next to Dressel for the first time in the 100m fly final. After Dressel tied for fifth, he put his arm around the young man and congratulated him as they stepped off the deck together.
Dressel resumed training three times a week in late February and didn’t start practicing eight times a week in earnest until early May. But while Mr. Dressel lost some of his strength and strength during the layoff, he also gained peace, he said. He said he can now sit on the front porch with his wife, Meghan Markle. Or why you thought 2019 was the worst. “
He tapped into that new mindset on the first night of competition in Indianapolis. In the 100m freestyle, Dressel’s seeding time of 47.67 seconds was recorded in the relay lead-off leg at the 2022 World Championships before withdrawing, a direct measure of his competitiveness before the hiatus. becomes. His qualifying swim at the national competition was nearly two seconds slower, which only qualified him for the ‘C’ final, the bonus heat at the end of the prime-time program, with no medals or international qualification. I didn’t get the right.
Had he not bet anything, he could have simply scratched the race. But after starting that night sitting in the stands with Meghan Markle and her parents, he slipped downstairs to warm up. By the time he climbed onto the block, the crowd had thinned out. He raced under the mark and looked up at the scoreboard to see the time that put him 19th in the event.
He pulled himself out of the pool with a smile and headed for the plunge well to cool down. He wasn’t the winner, but he was still in the water.