By Sharon Robb
OMAHA, Neb., June 17, 2021—Caeleb Dressel of the Gator Swim Club, the next big Olympic star in men’s swimming, qualified for his second Olympics Thursday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials at CHI Health Center.
Dressel, 24, a Clay High School and Bolles Club alum won the glamour event 100-meter freestyle in a U.S. Open and pool record 47.39, second fastest time in the world this year. He was .60 off the blocks and 22.46 after the opening 50 meters.
Dressel, a two time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, is setting himself up nicely for the Tokyo Olympics where he could potentially win seven medals in one Olympics following in the footsteps of Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi.
“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” Dressel said. “I’m excited to get the job done and move forward. It certainly doesn’t get any easier. That hurt real bad but I’m happy with it. My goal was to get my hand on the wall first here so I got the job done.
“You can’t win five, six or seven medals if you don’t qualify for the events. I’m focused on qualifying right now.”
A giant picture of Dressel is on the outside of the downtown arena where the trials are being held.
“All the fluff that comes with it, your name on the building, is cool,” Dressel said. “But it adds a little bit different pressure to it.”
Joining Dressel on the 4×100 relay will be Zach Apple of Mission Viejo, who finished second in 47.72, Blake Pieroni third in 48.16 and newcomer Brooks Curry, 20, of LSU Tigers in 48.19. The top four automatically qualify for the relay.
In the new Olympic men’s event 800-meter freestyle, Bobby Finke, 21, of Clearwater left no doubt controlling the race and winning in 7:48.22 to make his first Olympic team. Michael Brinegar, 21, whose mom Jennifer made the Olympic team 45 years ago, competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, came on in the last 50 to surge ahead of Ross Dant to finish second in 7:49.94.
“I don’t even know how this feels to be an Olympian, I can’t come to terms with it yet,” Finke said. “I am so thankful for my friends and my family. This distance is a sprint and I don’t like sprints. It is what it is and it’s part of the program now.”
In a close men’s 200-meter breaststroke, Nic Fink, 27, of Athens Bulldogs won in a best time 2:07.55. Fink has been 17th and seventh in his last two Olympic Trials. Club teammate Andrew Wilson was second in 2:08.32.
“It’s something I can’t really describe,” Fink said. “Relief is only the beginning of what I’m feeling right now. It’s a long journey to come here. This is such an incredible meet with high ups and low downs. I’ve had so much support and help. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and to come back after getting third in the 100.”
In the women’s 200-meter butterfly, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger, 26, won in a best time 2:05.85, a U.S. Open and pool record. She turned on the jets and went 33.1 in the final stretch. She’s joined on the Olympic team by 19-year-old Regan Smith, already on the team in the 100 backstroke. They are the second and fourth fastest times in the world this year.
“I was just having so much fun,” Flickinger said. “Regan and I race each other all the time. It’s always fun to be there with her. We had a race plan in mind and all I wanted to do was execute it for him (her coach Bob Bowman).”
In one of the biggest surprises of the Trials, defending Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel failed to make it out of the 100-meter freestyle semifinals, the event she won a gold medal in at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Manuel was out of the pool for three weeks in April for various reasons including the Black Life Matters movement and pandemic. She finished in 54.17 for ninth, 2/100ths of a second from the finals. Manuel has one more chance to qualify in the 50.
World record holder Ryan Lochte, 36, looking to make his fifth Olympics team, was second fastest qualifier in the 200-meter individual medley in 1:58.48 behind Michael Andrew in 1:56.25 in prelims. He was third in his semifinal heat in 1:58.65 and qualified sixth for Friday’s final. Lochte scratched from the 200-meter backstroke to focus on the 200 IM.
“I know I have a faster swim in me 100 percent,” Lochte said after his semifinal race. “There’s no such thing as perfect races. There’s a lot I have to improve on, especially that race. That was just not a good one. I messed up in a lot of places. I’ll be better.”
Josh Zuchowski, 17, of FAST swims was 24th in the 200-meter backstroke in 2:01.53, off his qualifying time of 2:00.76.
Erika Pelaez, 14, of Eagle Aquatics was 38th in the 100-meter freestyle in 56.19, off her best of 55.51. She has the 50 freestyle left to swim.
Julia Podkoscielny, 16, of Pine Crest Swimming swims Friday in the 200 backstroke.
The top two finishers of most events will most likely become 2021 US Olympians. Relay only spots go to places 3-6 (though not completely guaranteed for 6th place) of 100- and 200-meter freestyle events. The maximum roster size for Team USA is 26 men and 26 women.
All races 200 meters or shorter will have three stages at Trials: a prelim in the morning, followed by a semifinal that evening. The final of the top-8 qualifier will take place on the following night.
Friday’s events are: (Morning Session), women’s 800 freestyle prelims, men’s 100 butterfly prelims, women’s 200 backstroke prelims; (Evening session) women’s 200 breaststroke final, men’s 200 backstroke final, women’s 200 backstroke semifinal, men’s 200 IM final, women’s 100 freestyle final, men’s 100 butterfly semifinal.
Daily finals coverage will be broadcast across NBC channels. Along with live finals coverage, 24 hours of preliminaries will be available on NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports App.
For prelims, today through June 19, 11 a.m. on NBC Stream and 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN. For finals, today through June 16 on NBC at 8 p.m., June 17 NBC at 10 p.m. and NBCSN at 8 p.m., June 18-19 NBC at 9 p.m. and June 20 NBC at 8:15 p.m. All times are Eastern Standard Time for South Florida.
THURSDAY FINAL RESULTS
200-meter butterfly: 1. Hali Flickinger, Sun Devils 2:05.85, 2. Regan Smith, RIPT 2:06.99, 3. Charlotte Hook, TAC Titans 2:07.92.
800-meter freestyle: 1. Bobby Finke, St. Petersburg Aquatics 7:48.22, 2. Michael Brinegar, Mission Viejo 7:49.94, 3. Ross Dant, N.C. State 7:50.66.
200-meter breaststroke: 1. Nic Fink, Athens Bulldogs 2:07.55, 2. Andrew Wilson, Athens Bulldogs 2:08.32, 3. Will Lincon, Texas Longhorns 2:08.50.
100-meter freestyle: 1. Caeleb Dressel, Gator Swim Club 47.39, 2. Zach Apple, MVN 47.72, 3. Blake Pieroni, SAND 48.16.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com