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He's back! Caeleb Dressel looks like himself again, winning at US Olympic swim trials

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — After a long layoff and all the doubts about whether he'd reclaim his place as one of the world's greatest swimmers, Caeleb Dressel is beginning to look like himself again.

Dressel earned his first individual race of the Paris Games, powering to a relatively easy victory in the men's 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials Friday night.

One of the biggest stars in Tokyo with five gold medals, Dressel finished third in the first individual event, the 100 freestyle, which relegated him to the relay at that distance.

But he'll get a chance to defend his 50 free title in Paris, blowing away the field in the frantic dash from one end of the pool to the other at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s tough. That was a tough one,” Dressel said. “I was not super-confident until I got up on that block. There’s only so much you can do in the 50. It’s head down and go fast.”

Dressel did just that to touch in 21.41 seconds — not as fast as his winning time (21.07) at the last Olympics, but still a performance that would've been good enough to win gold in 2021.

Chris Guiliano claimed his third individual race in Paris with a runner-up finish of 21.69.

In the aftermath of his Tokyo success, Dressel stunningly walked away from swimming during the 2022 world championships. He later revealed what a toll the sport had taken on him, saying he needed an extended break to rediscover his passion at the pool.

Dressel failed to even qualify for the 2023 worlds, and his mental fragility is still a work in progress.

“There’s parts of this meet that I’ve had some very low lows,” he conceded. “There’s parts that I have when I’m in my hotel room that are not on camera, talking to my wife, talking to my therapist. It has not been smooth sailing this whole meet. I know y’all get to see the smile, and I’m working on it. I’m trying to find those moments and really relish in them.”

About 35 minutes after his victory in the 50 free, Dressel returned for the semifinals of his final event, the 100 butterfly.

The tattooed Floridian showed more impressive speed, posting the fastest time of 50.79 to stamp himself as the favorite in the final Saturday night. Dare Rose was next at 51.11.

If Dressel can finish in the top two of that race, he would likely swim up to five events in Paris counting the relays — not far off his six-event program in Tokyo.

“I really feel like I’m loving this sport,” he said. “I’m not going best times. I haven’t gone a single best time, but just when I’m walking out, not even performing, feeling the love from everyone, it’s really special.”

Like Guiliano, Regan Smith will also be swimming three individual events at the Olympics after winning the 200 backstroke.

Smith was under world-record pace through the first two laps, but faded a bit at the end to touch in 2 minutes, 5.16 seconds.

She finished more than a second ahead of Phoebe Bacon, who grabbed the second Olympic spot in 2:06.27. She chased down reigning world champion Claire Curzan, who missed out on a berth in Paris with a time of 2:06.34.

Smith previously won the 100 backstroke in world-record time, along with a victory in the 200 fly. She just missed a fourth individual race in Paris with a third-place showing in the 100 fly.

Still, it's been a dynamic meet for the Minnesota native, who has endured plenty of ups and downs since setting her first world record in 2019.

“I'm incredibly proud of this performance,” Smith said. “I ran out of gas in that last race, but its been a great meet for me.”

Guiliano edged Matt King for an Olympic berth by a hundredth of a second, with Jack Alexy taking fourth in 21.76.

Guiliano has emerged as a big star of these trials, heading to his first Olympics with three individual events on his plate. He won the 100 freestyle and was runner-up in the 200 free and now the 50 free.

Guiliano, who competes collegiately at Notre Dame, will be the first American male to swim those three events at the Olympics since the great Matt Biondi in 1988.

Carson Foster will be doubling up in Paris, adding a victory in the 200 individual medley to the title he won in the 400 IM.

Shaine Casas was under world-record pace through the first two laps, but Foster chased him down on the freestyle leg to win in 1:55.65.

Casas grabbed his first Olympic berth in 1:55.83 — a huge relief for a swimmer who was billed as a rising star ahead of the Tokyo Games but failed to qualify in either of his events at the 2021 U.S. trials.

“This means everything," Casas said. "Since I was a kid, it's all I dreamed about. Now, I won't have to pretend to be an Olympian. I am an Olympian."

Kate Douglass turned in another strong performance in the semifinals of the women's 200 individual medley.

She finished in 2:08.53 to edge Alex Walsh (2:08.74) for the top spot. Douglass has lived up to her billing as one of the world's most versatile swimmers, having already claimed victories in the 200 breaststroke and 100 freestyle. She also remains entered in the 50 free, though he's expected to scratch that race.

“That was really hard,” Douglass said after the 200 IM. “I'm tired. But I am really happy with the meet so far. I feel like I'm excited to have one more race tomorrow and see how it goes.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Paul Newberry, The Associated Press