By Jim Rusnak//Director of Editorial Properties | Saturday, July 27, 2019
GWANGJU, South Korea – It was an outstanding night for Caeleb Dressel and the U.S. swim team Saturday at the 18th FINA World Championships.
The Americans won gold in five of the six finals contested on day 7. Dressel himself won three of them, taking the top spot in the men’s 50m free, 100m butterfly and as a member of the world-record-setting mixed 400m free relay. Regan Smith also took gold in the women’s 200m backstroke, and Katie Ledecky took gold in the women’s 800m freestyle.
That brought the team’s total medal tally for the week to 22 – 11 gold, six silver and five bronze.
“I certainly wanted to do my part,” Dressel said. “I’m glad I did tonight, but it was really just two individual (medals), and I had a lot of help on that relay. I could have been a little better on that relay, but I had some very good help in Zach (Apple), Simone (Maunel) and Mallory (Comerford).
“Of course I’m happy with it. Any time you get a relay up there, any time you get an individual (medal) it’s a special moment.”
Dressel’s performance was a replay of day 7 two years ago at the 2017 World Championships, with the same results. He now has six gold medals for the week, including the 50m fly, 100m free and 400m free relay, and a silver in the mixed 400m medley relay.
“It was not easy in ’17, and it was not easy this year,” Dressel said. “I don’t want it to be easy, I really don’t. It’s just about getting better every day. I knew what was ahead of me the moment I finished Pan Pacs last year and knew what I was qualified for. It took a lot of focus, not just today but leading up to the meet. It wasn’t easy then, and it wasn’t easy now, but I’m glad it’s over. I certainly don’t want to swim any more events tonight, but tomorrow I will be ready to swim one more and swim one more fast.”
In his first race of the night, Dressel successfully defended his World Championship title in the men’s 50m freestyle in 21.04, setting a meet and American record. He became just the second American to repeat as world champion in this event. The first was Tom Jaeger in 1986 and 1991. He also became the third-fastest swimmer of all time in the 50 free, behind Cesar Cielo of Brazil and Fred Bousquet of France.
Finishing second behind Dressel was Bruno Fratus of Brazil in 21.45. Kristian Gkolomeev of Greece won bronze in 21.45. Dressel’s teammate, Michael Andrew, was sixth in 21.62.
“My start was so bad,” Dressel said. “I wish I had it back, but I don’t. I got my hand on the wall first. That was the goal here – just to get my hand on the wall first and swim fast. I did go a best time, so I am happy with that, but there is room to improve.
About 35 minutes after the 50 free, Dressel was back in the water for the finals of the men’s 100m butterfly. In last night’s semifinals, Dressel set the world record in this event in 49.50. No world record tonight, but he did defend his World title in 49.66, the second-fastest performance in history.
He touched a good body-length ahead of the rest of the field and was the only swimmer to break 50 seconds. Andrei Minakov of Russia was second in 50.83, and Chad LeClos was third in 51.16.
He capped the night leading off the mixed 400m free relay, the team of him, Zach Apple, Mallory Comerford and Simone Manuel setting a world record in 3:19.40. Dressel gave the team a slim lead in the first leg by three-hundredths of a second. From there, each swimmer did their part to hold on to that lead, with Manuel finishing the job. Australia was second in 3:19.97, followed by France for bronze in 3:22.11.
“I think it’s a really fun relay, to do a mixed relay, and be able to be up there with these guys representing Team USA,” Comerford said. “It a really fun opportunity to go out and race and do it for each other. I think doing it for Caeleb, too – he had a great night. Having him lead us off was really awesome.”
“Our relays haven’t been doing as well as we would have liked them to do, so to get a gold medal tonight and finish off well is something we’re really proud of,” Manuel said.
In other gold-medal swims, Regan Smith took another shot at the world record she set last night in the women’s 200m backstroke. And while she was ahead of world record pace through the 150-meter mark, she fell off that pace down the homestretch.
Her time of 2:03.69 missed the record by .34 seconds, but it was the second-fastest performance of all time and outdistanced the rest of the field by about three seconds for gold.
“The world record was crazy, and I still don’t believe it to be honest with you,” Smith said. “It just gave me a ton of confidence going into tonight, and my biggest goal for this meet was just to come away with a medal for Team USA and help the medal count out a little bit. I’m just so happy that I was able to get a gold and support Team USA.”
After a tough week in which she scratched from two events on the third day of competition, Katie Ledecky finally struck gold Saturday in her signature event, the women’s 800m freestyle, outdueling Simona Quadarella of Italy in the final 50 meters for the win in 8:13.58.
Ledecky led the race for the first 400 meters, but Quadarella made her move and took the lead at the 450-meter mark. Ledecky trailed slightly through 750 meters, when she turned on the afterburners and pulled away for good. Quadarella finished about a second and a half behind in 8:14.99, while Ariarne Titmus was third in 8:15.70. American Leah Smith was fifth in 8:15.70.
Ledecky – the world record-holder in this event – now holds 24 of the 25 fastest performances of all time in the 800m free. Tonight’s swim ranked 21st. She has two Olympic and three World Championship titles in this event and has never lost this race at a major international competition.
It was her third medal of the meet after winning silver in the 400m free and silver in the 800m free relay.
“I took it out like I usually do, and just kind of relied on my training to bring me home,” Ledecky said. “Simona was having a great race and pulled up right next to me, and when she did that, I kind of felt like I could stick with her and rely on my speed. I just tried to stay calm and relaxed from the 500 to the 750, and decided in the last 100 when I was going to make a move. (From there) I just put my legs into it and got my hand on the wall.”
In other races Kelsi Dahlia tied her own American record in the finals of the women’s 50m butterfly in 25.48, but finished out of medal contention in fourth place. In an odd coincidence, tonight’s swim marked the third straight year Dahlia has swum that time in the 50 fly on almost the same date each time.
She first set the record in 25.48 finishing fourth July 29 at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. She repeated the time almost a year later on July 26 at the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships, and then again tonight (July 27).
Meanwhile, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden won her third straight World title in this event in 25.02. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands was second in 25.35, while Farida Osman of Egypt was third in 25.47.
Swimmers competed Saturday night in the semifinals of the women’s 50m freestyle, women’s 50m breaststroke, and the men’s 50m backstroke. The top eight swimmers in each event will compete in tomorrow night’s finals.
Americans competing in semifinals were Simone Manuel in the women’s 50m free (4th, 24.21); Abbey Weitzeil in the women’s 50m freestyle (10th, 24.58); Lilly King in the women’s 50m breaststroke (1st, 29.84); Ryan Murphy in the men’s 50m backstroke (4th, 24.64); and Michael Andrew in the men’s 50m backstroke (7th, 24.76).