Ultra Swim Swimmer of the Month: Caeleb Dressel, Florida

Ultra Swim Swimmer of the Month is a recurring SwimSwam feature shedding light on a U.S.-based swimmer who has proven themselves over the past month. As with any item of recognition, Swimmer of the Month is a subjective exercise meant to highlight one athlete whose work holds noteworthy context – perhaps a swimmer who was visibly outperforming other swimmers over the month, or one whose accomplishments slipped through the cracks among other high-profile swims. If your favorite athlete wasn’t selected, feel free to respectfully recognize them in our comment section.

  • 17.63
  • 42.80
  • 39.90


We could have written this article in those three bullet points alone. Maybe a mic drop at the end for good measure.

There really isn’t much left to be said about how impressive Caeleb Dressel was last week in the fastest four days of short course swimming in the history of histories. Every so often, we – the collective “we” of the community of swimming fandom, swimmers, swammers, coaches, parents and sport enthusiasts – get to see a swimmer go after a special barrier. Swimming veterans remember where they were the first time a man went under 1:50 in a 200 breaststroke; there are still stories told to children and younger swimmers about watching the first-ever 18-second 50 free.

Last week, we were treated to five such swims. Every single one hit their goal of smashing that barrier, and three of the swims came from Dressel himself.

The first sub-18 50 free from a flat start. The first sub-40 100 free of all-time. The first sub-43 100 fly in history.

For a story that started by saying how little there was left to say, this one has found quite a bit to gush about.

That’s a common sentiment among swimmers, who spent much of last week trying to explain to their non-swimming friends, family and co-workers just why exactly the number 17.63 meant so much. Maybe in a lot of our cases, we were trying to explain to ourselves, too, just why a 17-second 50 free seemed like it affected us so profoundly.

Experiencing last week was a common bond that all of swimming fandom will share for a lifetime. Let’s cut the inevitable Phelps comparisons. Sure, there was an awe surrounding Dressel’s week that was vaguely familiar to watching Phelps go 8-for-8 in Beijing. The fact that a swimmer could carry any four of his team’s five relays with equally-impressive swims in any stroke, distance or discipline can’t help but draw comparisons to the GOAT. But this experience was all its own. Dressel is his own swimmer. These achievements carry their own weight entirely, a week of repeated collective euphoria of an entire sporting population as the once-unthinkable was done again, and again and again.

And before we bog down in the also-inevitable (but ultimately pointless) critiques and analyses of what this will mean in long course or whether any of these swims even matter if they didn’t happen in one specific month in the fourth year of an arbitrary cycle guiding a world athletic event (as if a meet that drew the eyes of well over a quarter of a million unique sports fans, inspired more than 3,000 comments on our live recaps alone and drew so much traffic it crashed our site twice could somehow mean absolutely nothing simply because there’s a different meet happening in two and a half years that people who don’t care about swimming treat as the only time swimming is important), let’s take a minute to appreciate just what we witnessed last week – whether we can articulate exactly what it was or not.

To close our Swimmer of the Month story, here is a chronological look at each of Dressel’s 14 swims at NCAAs, along with a composite race video of each of his record-breaking swims:

  • Day 2 prelims: 200 free relay split – 17.96
  • Day 2 prelims: 50 free – 18.11
  • Day 2 prelims: 100 free split – 40.27
  • Day 2 finals: 200 free relay leadoff – 17.81
  • Day 2 finals: 50 free – 17.63
  • Day 2 finals: 100 breast split – 50.62
  • Day 3 prelims: 100 fly – 44.37
  • Day 3 prelims: 200 medley relay free split – 17.30
  • Day 3 finals: 100 fly – 42.80
  • Day 3 finals: 200 medley relay free split – 17.37
  • Day 4 prelims: 100 free – 40.68
  • Day 4 prelims: 40 free relay split – 40.15
  • Day 4 finals: 100 free – 39.90
  • Day 4 finals: 400 free relay split – 40.25

More Dressel race and post-race interviews here


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2 years ago

I honestly can’t believe I saw a single record get broken 3 times in a day. Has that ever happened before?

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo
Reply to  Pvdh
2 years ago


A non-e mouse
2 years ago

I just am blown away by the 50 free still. 0.8 better than anyone else!
And wasn’t it less than two years ago Tom Shields was the first to break 44 in the 100 fly, now Dressel is under 43. Remarkable

Swammer from Wakanda
Reply to  A non-e mouse
2 years ago

December 2016. Yeah it’s barely been over a year. Amazing

2 years ago

Fantastic article. Brilliant perspective. I loved your line about maybe we just want to explain to ourselves why 17.63 meant so much. I can’t speak for others, but for me it was a crazy mixture of awe and also dismay, of sorts. Like, I really thought I understood swimming, but I would have outright said that 17.63 was not a possible result prior to that day. So that was humbling for me as a swim fan and lover of the sport. But of course, there was the awe. Overall, it was a joy to see. I’m curious to hear from someone who was actually on deck about the various crowd reactions. From the live stream, it seemed like 17.81 got… Read more »

Reply to  THEO
2 years ago

Well said. It’s hard to put into words.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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