Shaped by the mentally exhausting Olympic Games in Tokyo, American swimming star Caeleb Dressel managed to revive his desire to swim just in time for the World Championships, which begin in Budapest on Saturday.
With five gold medals last summer, Dressel established itself as a major attraction at the Olympic Games, setting two world records in the 100 m butterfly and the 4 x 100 m medley relay.
However, with his incredible harvest barely reaped, the swimmer had expressed his unease, confident of how hard it had been to endure the pressure. “I want to do everything there, except swim,” Dressel said at the end of the tests.
Like other champions of recent years, from tennis player Naomi Osaka to gym superstar Simone Biles, Dressel, 25, has broken the mental health taboo in sport by speaking openly about her struggles. He even went so far as to share excerpts from his diary.
The American explained that despite his five Olympic victories, he was actually disappointed that he hadn’t achieved his goals. “I wasn’t being fair to myself. I had just won five gold medals on the biggest sports field in the world and I thought I should have swum faster,” he recently told Graham Bensinger, an American journalist who regularly collects confessions of great athletes.
– “Completely Lost” –
Returning to normal life has been complicated for the Floridian, who says he’s struggling to find a balance between his daily life and his new pool star status.
“Actually, I just wanted to lock myself in a room and not talk to anyone,” he said.
“I felt completely lost. I wanted to get out of the water as much as possible, but at the same time, the water is one of the places where I feel the safest. So it was a moment where I felt really heavy. I was really unhappy for several months,” he continued.
Today, after skipping several competitions in the fall and changing coaches, the Olympic champion says he is finally doing better. “I needed time away from everything.”
“At the end of January I started to feel fit. I’m doing times in training that I’ve never done before. It felt good to feel again,” he said.
– Two hours, three titles –
In Budapest he finds the Duna Arena, the swimming pool where his career took a big turn in 2017. In the year that the swimming world was looking for a replacement for Michael Phelps, the 23-Olympic titan, Dressel, then 20, had shown himself by winning seven world titles. He had even made history by winning three gold medals in the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly and 4 x 100m medley mixed relay in less than two hours.
Starting Saturday he will compete in four individual races, the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 50m and 100m butterfly, driven as always by the desire to improve.
“My goal in sport is to improve, not to beat opponents,” he explained during a podcast presented by former Australian swimmer Brett Hawke.
In the Hungarian capital, the other announced star of the pool is said to be Dressel’s compatriot Katie Ledecky. In the absence of her Australian rival Ariarne Titmus, who preferred to focus on the Commonwealth Games, the seven-time Olympic champion will be looking to add to her World Championships collection, which already totals 15 gold medals.
The week’s other headliners could be Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo who could improve on her world record in the 100m backstroke, or even the very young Summer McIntosh, 15, a new revelation in Canadian swimming.
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