On June 22, 2022, Caeleb Dressel, seven-time Olympic champion, did not appear in the semifinals of the 100 Butterfly at the Budapest World Cup. The American had already won the golds in the relay event 4x100 freestyle and 50 butterfly. Its absence, logically, generated a great impact. The first explanation ruled out that it was a physical problem or related to Covid-19. Everything pointed to his mental health, the need to stop.
After the Tokyo Olympic Games and after winning the five gold medals (50 and 100 free, 100 butterfly, 4x100 free and 4x100m styles), Dressel confessed that he felt empty in his room, in the dark and not wanting to eat.
“I wasn’t fair to myself. I had just won five golds on the biggest stage and I was just thinking that I should have swam faster. I felt lost. I wanted to leave the water, which was the only place where I felt comfortable,” confessed one of the great figures in world swimming.
Dressel lived with pressure and depression from a young age. In an interview on the show ‘In Depth with Graham Bensinger’, he detailed an episode that he had to live in a junior championship in the United States: in the semifinals he had dropped 19 seconds in the 50 yards, thus becoming the first teenager to do it and in the final he couldn’t repeat it, which caused disappointment in the spectators: “When I finished, I felt an oh! of people’s disappointment. I thought ‘I won, I finished at 19, that’s very good’. But it was the first time I really felt the pressure.”
The Orange Park born 26 years ago had to live with being “the new Phelps” during his first years of his career, although he quickly managed to write his own name in swimming. In Rio 2016, he won his first two gold medals, to which he added five in Tokyo, while he also won 18 in World Cups (15 gold!). Beyond the successes, the pressure continued to affect his mental health.
“The pressure reached a maximum level. After the Games, it wasn’t just about what I was doing in the pool anymore, it was also about my life outside. They asked me a lot of questions in that regard. My wife, Meghan, did an interview tour with me. Later, I watched shows where I appeared and I don’t remember doing it,” Dressel acknowledged and recounted an episode that happened to him in November 2021 when he retired from the season of the International Swimming League: “I needed help, I needed to talk to the people I love, I needed to be honest. I felt very lost. I felt pretty miserable for a couple of months.”
Since his absence from the semifinals of the 100 Butterfly at the Budapest World Cup, it took several months for Dressel to publicly reappear with a post on his networks, in which he stated that “I can honestly say that I have been happy without swimming although I really miss it”, and that he closed with a “I will be back”. And he came back...
In March, Dressel returned to training in the pool under the orders of coach Anthony Nesty, who in Seoul 88 became the first black swimmer to win an Olympic medal by beating Matt Biondi in the 100 butterfly.
This weekend, 11 months after retiring at the Budapest World Cup, Dressel will be swimming again at the Atlanta Classic. The American will compete in six tests: this Friday he will begin his participation in 200 free and 100 butterfly, on Saturday he will do so in 200 butterfly and 50 free and on Sunday he will close with the 200 medleys and 100 free.
Dressel’s preparation points to the United States Championships that will be held in June and will qualify for the World Swimming Championship in Fukuoka, Japan, from July 14 to 30.