Caeleb Dressel on Comparisons to Phelps: “I don’t think it’s fair to Michael”

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.

Speaking to NBC’s TODAY prior to the meet, American star swimmer Caeleb Dressel says that he doesn’t think comparisons to legendary swimmer Michael Phelps are fair.

“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.”

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Here Comes Lezak
1 month ago

He really is the master of his process and always has such a mature and well thought out perspective. Much respect Caeleb!

1 month ago

It’s also not fair to Caeleb. He’s a great swimmer, possibly the best male swimmer in the world, but if your point of comparison is arguably the greatest athlete in history then it’s almost impossible to meet that expectation.

Reply to  ACC
1 month ago

Exactly. It’s more unfair to dressel if anything to put that kind of expectation on him

1 month ago

Dressel’s attitude is perfect. No wonder he is so successful.

NC Fan
Reply to  Bill
1 month ago

And an important lesson for all emerging swimmers and their parents, coaches, and ‘fans’ to remember is that he had to grow into that maturity and perspective and took 5 months off due to burnout and “demons I was fighting” when he was 16. He may seem to have the perfect attitude and approach now, but it sounds like it took pain to go there so we need to make sure to not just place ‘Dressel-zen’ type expectations on others.

Reply to  NC Fan
1 month ago

This is a really, really good point. Everyone in the swimming community, including us commentariat should try to remember this when we see athletes who are struggling to get to that point.

Reply to  Bill
1 month ago

Really reminds me of Phelps that way.

1 month ago

incredible answer, caeleb is goated

1 month ago

Caeleb and Michael are also polar opposites in how they swim. One is a sprinter, and one is more of an all around back half swimmer.

1 month ago

Phelps will always be remembered as the best to ever do it, but I think there is a real chance that Dressel is remembered as the greatest sprinter of all time, as well as one of the best to ever do it in the NCAA

Reply to  T S
1 month ago

It’s hard to make a case for a better NCAA swimmer… maybe lochte…On the women’s side you have coughlin, I think dressel is at that level.

Greatest sprinter of all time I think he needs a gold or two in paris, assuming he wins 50 and 100 here. Let’s not forget popov….

Last edited 1 month ago by eagleswim
1 month ago

200 I’m DQ not called,dolphin kick

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Coachron
1 month ago


Coach Mike 1952
1 month ago

One of the most thoughtful, mature & extraordinary sets of comments from an amazing young person I have ever heard. Utterly perfect Caeleb.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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