Caeleb Dressel's honesty is even more remarkable than his 50 free win at Olympic trials

INDIANAPOLIS — Caeleb Dressel, the five-time Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo, swims like a dream, all speed and power, but it’s his honesty after his races that is even more remarkable.

He won the men’s 50 freestyle Friday night at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, then 37 minutes later, swam the fastest qualifying time for Saturday’s 100 butterfly. He also qualified for the U.S. men’s 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay in Paris earlier this week.

Dressel, 27, did all this after disappearing from his sport for an eight-month break in 2022. But he is back, and while his times are not as fast as they were three years ago, at least not yet, the victory is in his return.

“It takes a lot of work and there’s parts of this meet I’ve had some very low lows,” Dressel said after his races Friday. "There’s parts in my hotel room that aren’t on camera talking with my wife, talking with my therapist. It has not been smooth sailing this whole meet. I know you all get to see the smile and I’m working on it, I’m trying to find those moments and really relish in them. It’s just been fun. I really feel like I’m loving this sport and it’s really nice to feel that from the crowd.”

He continued: “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. I didn’t think that’s something I would realize at this meet but it’s been really nice being able to feel that from everyone.”

It has been a long journey back from the highest of highs at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. As he won gold medal after gold medal, the pressure was building and ended up taking quite a toll.

“There’s so much pressure in one moment, your whole life boils down to a moment that can take 20, 40 seconds,” Dressel said last year at the 2023 world championship trials, where he failed to qualify for the U.S. team. “How crazy is that?  For an event that happens every four years. I wouldn’t tell myself this during the meet, but after the meet, looking back, I mean, it’s terrifying.

“The easiest way to put it, my body kept score. There’s a lot of things I shoved down and all came boiling up, so I didn’t really have a choice. I used to pride myself on being able to shove things down and push it aside and plow through it. It worked for a very long time in my career. I got results from 17, 19, 21, until I couldn’t do that anymore. So it was a very strange feeling. … It wasn’t just one thing where I was like I need to step away, it was a bunch of things that kind of came crumbling down at once and I knew that was my red flag right there, multiple red flags, there was a giant red flag.”

Moving ahead a year, Dressel finds himself appreciating his sport, and his victories, all the more.

“It’s really special for the rest of my life being able to say that my son (born in February) got to watch me make the Olympic team,” he said. “That’s something that no one can take away from me. It’s one thing being an Olympian, but my son being there, he’s not going to remember it, doesn’t matter.

“I’ve come a long way just in the past year, just strictly talking about times. I’m happy to be putting up times I haven’t gone in a really long time and we’re going to get faster too, so I’m really looking forward to that. This is a true test, this is a really big test, I feel like I’ve performed really well. The confidence is definitely growing as the sessions go on.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Caeleb Dressel wins 50 freestyle at US Olympic trials after break