Dressel is Back: USA World Trials in Review

God Bless Nic Fink, Team USA's breaststroke savior.

Morning, Nerd.

Welcome to the Swimnerd Newsletter where each week we highlight the most interesting stuff going on in swimming. This week...

  • 🌎 Team USA World Champ Trials

  • 📰 Caeleb Dressel is Back

  • 📜 Set of the Week

  • 🤡 Swimming Meme of the Week

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Buckle up for a recap of the US National Championships, doubling as the American selection meet for World Champs. Watch all the race footage in high definition on USA Swimming’s YouTube channel.

Phillips 66 USA National Championships

The Veterans

Some of the biggest names in American swimming locked up their places on the 2023 World Champs teams.

Katie Ledecky, face of US national teams for the past 11 years or so, swam two top-5 swims in history in her best events for wins in her typical dominating fashion, an 8:07.07 800 free and 15:29.64 1500. She also won the 400 (4:00.45) and placed second in the 200 (1:55.28), the latter which she dropped from her individual Worlds event lineup after the meet. The shorter events weren’t quite to her usual standard of peaked speed, so we’re betting she has even more in the tank for Worlds. She’ll have to to challenge McIntosh and Titmus in that 400, though the undisputed queen of distance swimming looks up to the challenge.

Lilly King showed she remains one of the best racers in the world, sweeping the breaststrokes in 29.77/1:04.75/2:20.95 but she wasn’t without young challengers as we’ll see further along.

Regan Smith continued her cross-continent rivalry with Kaylee McKeown, winning the 100 and 200 back (57.71/2:03.80, both US Open records) and the 200 fly (2:05.79).

Abbey Weitzel continued a bounce-back season with a 24.00 US Open record in winning the 50 free, also placing 2nd in the 100 free (53.11, with a 52.92 PR in prelims). She could take down Simone Manuel’s 50 Free American Record in a few weeks.

On the men’s side, the best performances from national team stalwarts came from Nic Fink. He took the sprint breaststrokes in 26.74/58.36, the latter a new PR, while working a 9-5 job. Thank goodness for him, because American breaststroke continues to be subpar versus the world. It doesn’t help that Michael Andrew, the American Record holder in the 100 Breast, has not been training breaststroke. With no Nic Fink, Team USA has no chance in the medley relays.

Backstroker Ryan Murphy wasn’t at his absolute best, but in winning the 200 back (1:55.03) and taking 2nd in the 100 back (52.39) he got his Fukuoka spots. Also notably, he hit a PR 51.35 100 fly before scratching finals. Looks like he’s entering his Aaron Piersol era, as the 200 back world record holder tried on the 100 fly to some success as well later in his career.

Bobby Finke held his position as the preeminent US men’s distance force with US Open records in the 800 (7:40.34) and 1500 (14:42.81). He should be right in the mix at Worlds with what might be the deepest men’s distance fields in history. He swam exceptionally well this week. But why not drop the 4 IM for the 4 Free?

Men’s IM metronome Chase Kalisz also made another international team with a 4:08.22 400 IM runner-up finish, then promptly announced via Tweet that he’d gotten food poisoning and was missing out on the 200 IM. The timing made you wonder if that Tweet came during a bathroom break!

We’d be remiss not to mention a couple of men’s national team regulars who probably didn’t have the meets we’ve come to expect from them: It’s well known that Caeleb Dressel took 8 months out of the water after pulling out of 2022 Worlds midway through the meet. He was definitely a wild card coming into Nationals this year after a few below average training meets this spring/summer. His results at the meet (22.72/49.42 free, 23.35/51.66 fly) were close enough to those training meet times to suggest that he didn’t even attempt to peak for this meet knowing he wasn’t in full conditioning. On the plus side, the guy looked like he was having a good time, so maybe we’ll see full-strength Dressel back by OTs. More on him below…

Meanwhile, Michael Andrew’s 100 fly (23.84/28.63) and 100 breast (28.45/33.05) splits suggest he’s been focusing on drop dead sprinting, but despite a win in the 50 fly (23.11), the priority list for Worlds meant he’ll miss the team after a third place finish in the 50 free (21.64).

The College Kids

The changing of the guard to the next generation has started, as it always does, and nowhere was it more apparent than the men’s 100 free on the first night. Ryan Held led prelims in 47.64, but the night was all about the college guys as Cal’s NCAA 100 free runner-up Giant Jack Alexy (47.93, 47.75 prelims), Notre Dame’s ever-improving Chris Guiliano (47.98), Virginia’s Matt King (47.99, 47.93 prelims) and Cal’s backstroke ace Destin Lasco (48.00, 47.87 AM) took the top four spots. Held is still the best option for relay anchor if he’s on, but these guys are carrying the torch for American sprinting now.

Lasco also continued Cal’s long line of backstroke excellence as the second place finisher behind Murphy in the 200 back (1:55.63). Cal got a third individual qualifier with Dare Rose carrying the momentum from his breakout college campaign to a 50.74 100 fly win.

Two of the meet’s most successful swimmers are also youngsters just finishing their college careers. Kate Douglass had one of a handful of the most dominant college seasons in history and was clearly itching to make her mark in the big pool. She took the 100 free the first night (52.57), took 2nd in the 2 breast to King (2:21.22), 3rd in the 100 fly (56.43), won the 200 IM (2:07.09 US Open record), and 3rd in the 50 free (24.48). All but the 50 were PRs for the meet High Point winner.'

UVA is well represented on the Worlds roster, as Alex Walsh took runner-ups in both IMs (2:07.89/4:35.46), sister Gretchen Walsh got an American record in the 50 fly (25.11) and runner-up in the 50 free (24.31) and 100 fly (56.34) and Maxine Parker nabbed a 4×100 free relay spot (53.51).

Meanwhile Carson Foster is forgoing his last year of college swimming to go pro, and backed up that decision with three wins in Indy in the 200 fly (1:54.32) and the IMs (1:56.19/4:08.14). He’ll also likely get a relay swim in the 4×200 after a prelims 1:45.64. Showdowns with his college nemesis Leon Marchand incoming.

Two of his Texas teammates also picked up wins on the weekend. Newest member of the sub-1:30 200 yard free club Luke Hobson won the meters version of that event (1:45.18), while David Johnston took the win in the 400 free (3:45.75). Notably both those wins were over the US’s recent best mid-D guy, Kieran Smith (1:45.63/3:46.11 - he’s gotta have more left in the tank there for next month, doesn’t he?).

Another baton-passing moment was the men’s 200 breast, where backhalfer Matt Fallon (2:07.71 off 29.90/32.56/32.06/33.19 splits) swam past the field on the third 50 to show he’s shaken off a back injury from the latter half of the NCAA season. Indiana’s Josh Matheny (2:08.32) blasted a big PR for second over the likes of vets Will Licon, Nic Fink, and Charlie Swanson. Matheny also took runner-up in the 100 breast (59.20).

Several other NCAA-based women will represent the US in Fukuoka, with Stanford’s Torri Huske winning the 100 fly (56.18), NC State’s Kathrine Berkoff winning the 50 back (27.13) and taking second in the 100 back (58.01), ASU’s Lindsey Looney taking second in the 200 fly (2:07.35), and Olympic champ Lydia Jacoby from Texas doing the same in the 100 breast (1:05.16).

Finally for the college guys, the distance event runner-ups are both from NCAA programs, with Ohio State’s Charlie Clark (14:50.84) taking second in the 1500 and NC State’s Ross Dant doing the same with a big 800 free PR (7:48.10).

The Youngsters

Some of the best swims of the week were from kids still in their high school years.

The Sandpipers of Nevada Big Three all made individual events for Worlds. Claire Weinstein had perhaps the upset of the week, flying past the field in the 200 free to touch out Katie Ledecky for the win (1:55.26). That’s the fourth best US performance ever for the 16-year-old, behind only Allison Schmitt, Ledecky, and Missy Franklin. Woof.

Katie Grimes probably didn’t quite have the meet she wanted, but still put herself on the team for two events in winning the 400 IM (4:33.80) and placing 2nd in the 1500 (15:58.34), while University of Florida-inbound Bella Sims was runner-up in the 400 free (4:03.25) and will get the second spot in the 200 (1:56.08) after Ledecky pulled out of the event. With Weinstein, Sims, and 4th place finished Erin Gemmell (1:56.23), that’s a potential world record 4×200 relay with three high schoolers.

On the men’s side, Thomas Heilman brought us the most impressive record of the week on the first night. He swam past Trenton Julian to take the second spot in the 200 fly in 1:54.54, breaking the 15-16 US Age Group record by some guy named Phelps. Perhaps even more shocking than that was his 100 fly - with the race anyone’s game at the 50 behind winner Dare Rose, the 16 year old showed the poise at the end, hitting a 51.19 - just slightly under a half second behind Kristof Milak’s World Junior Record with almost two years left to go!!

Jillian Cox was the final high schooler to make the team individually, with an 800 free runner-up finish (8:20.28). She also went PRs on either side of the distance spectrum from that race, with a 4:06.60 400 free to win the B final and a 16:18.40 1500 out of the morning heats for a 5th place finish.

Henry McFadden, from the Jersey Wahoos, will also get a relay swim with a 1:46.94 200 free. He also PR’d his 100 free (48.92) and 400 free (3:53.11).

Of course, the youngsters at this meet are as much about experience as actually making the team, and the future of USA Swimming looks bright here. Notables included:

  • Maximus Williamson (48.91/1:47.62 free, 1:58.65 IM)

  • Alex (54.22/1:56.70 free, 57.59/2:07.95 fly) and Aaron (1:47.29/3:49.19 free, 53.13/1:55.92 fly) Shackell

  • Luka “The Bazooka” Mijatovic (3:53.19/8:02.44/15:32.18 frees, shorter 2 13-14 Age Group records)

  • Piper Enge (31.19/1:09.01/2:27.86 breast, 2:15.89 IM)

  • Rex Maurer (1:47.63/3:48.18 free, 2:00.33 IM)

Caeleb Dressel is Back

Few names resonate as strongly as Caeleb Dressel, captivating audiences with his remarkable performances in the pool, including that 17.63 50 yard freestyle and those 5 gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

However, even the most successful athletes reach a point where they need to step back, rejuvenate, and find themselves again. Caeleb has battled anxiety, panic attacks, and depression since high school.

In his first interview in over a year, Dressel shared his experience of taking a break from the sport and the valuable lessons he learned during that time.

Here’s what he had to say…

The Importance of Taking a Break
Dressel emphasized the significance of taking breaks, a message he has always advocated, especially for younger swimmers. In his early days, he valued the opportunity to step away from swimming, engaging in other activities like soccer, football, and track. These breaks allowed him to maintain a healthy relationship with the sport, prevent burnout, and come back reenergized. The same principles apply at every level, and Dressel's recent hiatus of nearly a year highlights how crucial it is to listen to our bodies and prioritize self-care.

Discovering a New Perspective
During his break, Dressel mentioned that his body kept score. Years of burying emotions and pushing through challenges caught up with him, necessitating a pause to confront and address them. As he focused on other priorities, he gained a renewed perspective on what truly mattered beyond swimming. Dressel learned to appreciate the little things, from the smell of chlorine to the feeling of dry skin, and realized there were aspects of life far greater than the sport of swimming. This newfound ability to sit still and be present, unaffected by racing thoughts, became one of his most significant achievements during the break.

Regaining Confidence and Readiness
The question of whether Dressel would even return to swimming hovered above everyone's minds. As his hiatus extended, he began to question whether he would be okay if he never returned to the sport. This moment of acceptance demonstrated the mental growth he had undergone during his time away. Dressel's confidence stems from knowing the incredible dedication required (“dropping pennies in the bank”) to achieve his fast times and acknowledging the successful partnership he shares with his coaches and teammates. With his mental approach refreshed and his physical abilities under the guidance of his coach and supportive teammates, Dressel is confident about the upcoming season. Like Coach Nesty said before the meet started, “…he knows where he’s at.” And “that” is 22.72/49.42 Free and 23.35/51.66 Fly. That’s where he is right now.

Final Thoughts
Taking a break has allowed Dressel to heal, rediscover himself, and prioritize his mental well-being. It is only by stepping away that we can fully appreciate the pool's embrace once we return. Even a mediocre college swimmer returning to the pool via Masters understands this feeling.

Hopefully with a refreshed perspective and a rekindled enjoyment for swimming, Caeleb Dressel's return will be filled with unwavering determination to dominate the sport once again.

Stay tuned, for Caeleb Dressel is back on track for Paris 2024 and we are just 351 days away until he swims the 100 Fly at US Olympic Trials.

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