Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer in history, continues to be a monolithic figure in the sport, even 5 years after his retirement. That was evidenced by the significant interest and reaction to Phelps’ comments on whether Dressel should have been a member of the 800 free relay.
So any time a new top-class swimmer emerges, especially an American man, the comparisons to Phelps fly, especially among a casual public that is desperate to recapture that Olympic magic.
“I don’t think it’s fair to Michael,” Dressel said in a sit down with Craig Melvin. “He’s a better swimmer than me. I’m completely fine with saying that. That’s not my goal in the sport, to beat Michael. I’m a very different athlete than Michael. He was at a whole other level.”
“I’m fine if people want to compare me to him,” Dressel continued. “I have some goals that I would like to accomplish to where I can consider myself to be great, and I don’t have to compare myself to Michael to consider myself to be great.”
While the interview was filmed at his home pool at the University of Florida before the Olympics, one particular line of thought wound up being relevant after he tossed his finals gold medal to prelims swimmer Brooks Curry, who will receive his medal at a later point.
“It’s not about that for me,” Dressel noted during the Wednesday interview about the physical medal. “I don’t keep any of that stuff. You guys should be jealous. I get to do the fun part which is racing. I get to enjoy the race. … I don’t need a piece of medal to remind me of that. I got to enjoy it.”
“I think simple’s good,” he said. “That’s why I enjoy swimming. It’s very primitive, very simple. ‘Let me see if I can go faster than you.’ There’s no judging, no scores. Just time. ‘Let me get my hand on the wall faster than you.’”
For the Florida native, that mirrors his philosophy on life.
“I think greatness is found within mundanity, those boring little ticks throughout the day,” Dressel explained. “I call it putting pennies in the bank. My coach calls it putting tools in the toolbox. I think that’s where greatness is found. People want to dream up this big, giant goal without putting the stepping stones along the way, and for me, that’s what gets you to that giant goal.”