Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Caeleb Dressel’s busiest day ended up in a golden treble: he clinched the title in the 50m free, the 100m fly and the mixed 4x100m free relay. In the first two he clocked incredible times again while in the last one team USA set a new World Record. It was an almost all-American evening as Katie Ledecky bounced back from her illness to claim her 4th straight title in the 800m free while Regan Smith was a class above the rest in the 200m back. The only non-US gold came in the 50m fly where Sarah Sjostrom didn’t let anyone ruin her party this time.

The golden rush kicked off at 20.09 when Dressel took the starting blocks for the 50m free final. As expected, he was way faster than his rivals and even though he couldn’t break the 21sec barrier, he set a new Championship Record (21.04) which was an amazing feat itself as he bettered Cesar Cielo’s supersuit effort from Rome 2009. Ten years ago the dash was swum in full-body shiny suits but even amidst the best ever speedy conditions only two swimmers had been able to be faster than Dressel was this evening. Cielo’s late December WR (20.91) topped Fred Busquet’s 20.94 from the spring. And no one else – so in textile Dressel is by far the fastest on Earth and he even out-geared the vast majority of the 2009 top dogs. Here Bruno Fratus of Brazil and Kristian Gkolomeev of Greece shared the silver, touching the wall simultaneously, 0.41sec after the winner.

Once Dressel ticked the first task, he spent 15 minutes in the diving pool, where the warm-down and the warm-up for the 100m fly were done at once. His next appearance was due at 20.43 – and he came and flew to another victory. Though he was just a bit off his own WR pace set a day ago, his 49.66 was still inside Michael Phelps’s old WR from 2009 (49.83). A bit surprisingly, the other flying hero, 200m WR-holder Kristof Milak (HUN) was off his peak and had to settle for the 4th place (was silver medallist two years ago). Andrei Minakov (RUS) was fresh to grab the chance just as Chad le Clos (RSA) who claimed another medal after the 200m.

Unmatchable speed: Dressel is set to become the best sprinter swimming ever witnessed - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

There was no rest for Dressel as he needed to rush for his first victory ceremony where once the three athletes stood up behind the podium, he insisted to shepherd either Fratus or Gkolomeev to his left side only to learn amidst laughter that he was enjoying the company of two silver medallists. Focusing solely on his own job he was not even aware that there was a tie for the second place in that event.

Soon he had some time for recovering as he had one more hour till the session-ending 4x100m mixed free relay, this was only “broken by” his second ceremony at 21.18 (100m fly).

Then came the relay where he had another showdown with Olympic champion Kylie Chalmers (AUS) as the lead-off swimmers of the respective sides. Here the first signs of a light fatigue became visible as after the ever-powerful turn Dressel got some advantage but Chalmers could work his way back to trail by only 0.03sec at the wall (anyway, it was a brilliant effort from both, 47.34-47.37). The next three swims kept the US on top, this time the other Campbell sister Bronte tried to repeat Cate’s finishes (in the previous relays she managed to came home first) but Simone Manuel, fresh from her stunning lane 1 triumph in the 100m free, withstood the pressure and even enlarged the gap towards the end to 0.57sec while clocking a new WR (3:19.40).

So on Day 7 of swimming Caeleb Dressel completed his golden sprinting quest and now holds the titles of the 50m-100m free and 50m-100m fly in one hand. He is set to repeat his 7-gold haul from Budapest though with different pieces in the mix: there he had three individual titles and four from relays, now he stands with four individual golds and two from the relays, the medley will be staged tomorrow (but missed the 4x100m mixed medley title by 0.02sec against the Aussies). 

However, it’s well worth comparing his times from 2017 to the current ones as his development cannot be any more significant.

2017 v 2019 (best efforts)

50m free: 21.11 v 21.04

100m free: 47.17 v 46.96

50m fly: 22.76 v 22.34 (sf)

100m fly: 49.86 v 49.30 (WR, sf)

Though these seem tiny improvements but we all should know that in these events those tenths and hundredths really do make the differences.

And let’s also add what a difference some restday can make – having a bit of time off, Katie Ledecky bounced back to retain her 800m free title. It was a huge fight, not the usual one we had witnessed in recent years when the American swam in her own class and only the silver was up for grabs. In fact, 1500m free winner Simona Quadarella (ITA) and 400m free champion Ariarne Titmus (AUS) both were out to dethrone the queen. The Italian could take over the lead at 450m and held it till the last turn but Ledecky showed that even she hadn’t used to neck-to-neck battles in the longer distances, she could strike back if that’s needed. She geared up, clocked 29.19 in the homecoming leg while Quadarella had 30.78, gaining an amazing 1.6 sec on the Italian over 50m to win her 4th consecutive title in this distance and her 15th World Championships gold.

Team US had one more triumph to celebrate: after Regan Smith destroyed the 200m back World Record in the semis a day ago, her first place was a sure bet in the final. And she made no mistake though created some tension with the WR red line as she challenged her best effort from yesterday but this was the only duel she ‘lost’ – just like Dressel, she came inside the old WR (of Missy Franklin from 2012) once more, but missed the new mark by 0.31sec (2:03.69), while her winning margin was huge, 2.57sec ahead of Kaylee McKeown (CAN).

There was only one final on Saturday which didn’t end in playing the Stars and Stripes for the victor at the ceremony. And that was the women’s 50m fly where Sarah Sjostrom finally could clinch gold. The Swede, losing her 100m fly crown surprisingly, did a clean job while besting Ranomi Kromowidjojo by 0.33sec. Egypt’s Farida Osman could repeat her brilliant performance from Budapest and claimed the bronze again, though it was a close call, as three swimmers hit the wall in a span of 0.03sec but Osman’s touch earned her another podium parade.

Quotes

Caeleb Dressel, USA, gold, 50m free, 100m fly, 4x100m mixed free

“I’m not here to count medals. I’m going to wake up tomorrow and forget about this.”

"There are a lot of parts in my race that I can improve on. I've never had a perfect race in my life and certainly I don't think I will. You can always improve. I could have been a little better on the relay. I had some very good help from Zach, Simone and Mallory. We're happy with it."

"It was not easy in 2017 and it was not easy this year. I don't want it to be easy. It's just about getting better every day, learning event from event, practice from practice."

“Being in the spotlight is something that’s important in the sport. It is inevitable. But if it were up to me, it would just be me, [coach Gregg Troy], no media stuff and just trying to go best times, really.”

Katie Ledecky, USA, gold, 800m free

„It’s hard to rank it, each swim at this meet is unique and has it’s own story, this one definitely has one that I’ll be telling for a while, and I have a lot of stories that came with this week, stories that I didn’t want to have, but yeah it’s special to be able to pull out a swim like that and just trust that I could do it. 

I’ve been very up and down physically for the last couple of days, yesterday the 800 prelims was pretty tough, it just didn’t come as easily as it normally would. The time was actually pretty good for a prelims swim for me. But it just didn’t come easy. It wasn’t as bad as the mile prelims but still had some lingering effects there and I just knew that I had to buy myself some more time by making the finals and knowing that I have 30-36 hours to rest and the goal was to get as much sleep as I could and put myself in a position to fight for a medal. 

All of my races, my three races this week were all crazy races and good races and gave me a lot of experience in that kind of a race, and it was good, it was challenging, especially tonight, just to see where I was at, taking confidence and in my training and knowing that I could pull out the last 50 like that, I kind of knew that I had little more speed than Simona and kind of just trust that I could rely on that at the end.

We don’t have an exact diagnosis yet, I’m pretty sure it was some sort of viral thing or other illness, I had a lot of different symptoms, headaches, irregular pulse, elevated heart-rate, abnormal heart-rate for me, stomach bug, lack of sleep, insomnia and we spent seven hours at the hospital on Tuesday, our team doctor was great and he was right there with me the whole time at the hospital and we went through some tests. When I get home I’m going to check up with some doctors back home, make sure that things are squared away and I’m ready to be healthy this coming year and be able to get back to training knowing that I’m ready to give it 100% this year.”

Regan Smith, USA, gold, 200m back

"To be 2:03 two nights in a row, I was super, super stoked. I really went for it on the first hundred. It hurt really bad going home, but I'm really glad that I gave it my all two nights in a row."

Sarah Sjostrom, SWE, gold, 50m fly

“I feel great because actually it’s exactly 10 years ago I won my first world champ medal, it’s been crazy how fast the time has been going, so I’m very excited I was able to be able to win the 50 fly this time. 

Back in 2009, I was still a kid. I was 15 years old so I would never sit like this and speak English, my coach did it for me. So my English is better, but also I’m much stronger and actually more talented in more events than I was 10 years ago, as 100 fly was pretty much the only event I did. But now I won medals in 100 free, 200 free, 

Swimming is improving a lot. It’s crazy to see and I think a lot of people said it will be impossible to break world record after 2009 but we have proven all these people wrong. For me it actually took me 6 years to beat my personal best record in 100 fly from 2009 and it took until 2015 before I could challenge my own time. So I think swimming is going to continue to grow and become even faster. A lot of technical things have gotten much better like 2009, we didn’t really have the start block behind, so I think that’s also helping a lot and some other things too.”