Caeleb Dressel is 'the best male athlete since Michael Phelps'

Caeleb Dressel of the United States celebrates after winning the Men's 100m Butterfly Final at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships (Photo by Justin Heiman/Getty Images)
Caeleb Dressel of the United States celebrates after winning the Men's 100m Butterfly Final at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships (Photo by Justin Heiman/Getty Images)

American swimmer Caeleb Dressel has been dubbed the 'next Michael Phelps'

Maybe it was fate or maybe the stars were just aligned but Caeleb Dressel was born just days after the Atlanta 1996 Games Closing Ceremony.

But his path to being one of the top swimmers in the world wasn't exactly a linear scenario. It was at the age of 12, that Dressel decided to focus on swimming after playing American football. In the water, too many, he was a natural.

In 2012, a year after his first National Age Group (NAG) record, Dressel became the first swimmer under 16-years-old to break 20 seconds in the 200-yard freestyle relay before breaking the 100-yard freestyle 15-16 NAG record which had been set in 1990.

After deciding to take a six-month break from swimming when he was 17, Dressel went on to be one of the most coveted high school recruits. He would end up committing to the University of Florida — where his father also attended.

Success in the pool

Dressel has tasted Olympic success before.

His first Olympic gold came at Rio 2016 as part of the United States men's 4x100m freestyle relay alongside Ryan Held, Nathan Adrian and the legendary Michael Phelps. His second gold followed soon after in the medley relay - he swum in the heats.

At the time, Dressel was just 19-years-old.

Four years on, the American swimmer now has clinched 13 FINA World Aquatics Championship titles (Hungary 2017 and Gwangju 2019) - along with two silvers. However, Gwangju 2019 also saw the then 22-year-old become the first swimmer in history to win eight medals at a single World Championship and the list of achievements from that competition didn't stop there.

In a single night, he replicated his three-titles in a single night from Hungary 2017, clocked the third fastest time in the 100m freestyle (49.96 seconds) ever and broke Phelps 100m butterfly world record which stood for a decade.

Despite a fantastic 2019, which also saw him awarded the FINA's 2019 Male Swimmer of the Year, Dressel told FINA Magazine in December: “A lot of people think I had a great year. I don’t think it was great. I think it was good. I was happy with world championships, but not satisfied.”

He also holds the American records in the 50m and 100m freestyle and in 50m and 100m butterfly.

Nine swimming golds: Is it possible?

Phelps holds the title for the most Olympic gold medals at a single Games where he won all his eight races at Beijing 2008.

There is no doubt Dressel, who has been dubbed the 'next Phelps', is going to be one of the swimmers to watch next year at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. And while the 24-year-old isn't chasing Phelps record or trying to emulate the Olympic giants achievements, many fans, commentators and former champions have drawn comparisons between the two.

And after his success at the World Champions last year, experts have gone as far to say Dressel could even break Phelps record.

However, five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe recently weighed in on the discussion.

"For me Caeleb Dressel is the most dominate male swimmer I've seen since Michael Phelps in the way he's dominated events and I have the upmost respect for him," the Australian said in a recent Instagram Live interview with Olympic.org.

"I think he is such an exceptional athlete and when I look at him accomplishing nine compared to eight, I don't ever want eight to be a disappointment.

"I don't think it's worthwhile actually comparing different generations to others. I would have never had thought he'd be actually able to equal Michael's record and if he does, my hat off to him.

"He literally is the best male athlete since Michael Phelps, and that's no lie, that's just how it is," he added.

Michael Phelps' Record Eight Gold Medals in Beijing
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What's next?

With less than 300 days until the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, athletes have been preparing for the return of competition.

For many swimmers, its coming sooner than expected with the return of the International Swimming League set to start mid-October in Budapest, Hungary.

Dressel will return for the Cali Condors and co-captain alongside Olympic gold medallist Olive Smoliga. Last season the San Francisco-based team finished third in the final while Dressel won three MVP title in the three meets he participated.

However, the time away from competition, and even the pool at times, has allowed the world champion to clean up habits and look "for ways to get better every day".

While Dressel is destined for great things at Tokyo 2020 and expectations are high, for him, his main goal hasn't just to be the best swimmer as he told Swimming World Magazine in 2018.

“I just want to be a better man every day, and from there, the swimming will come.”