There are moments when athletes become stars.
And then there’s what Caeleb Dressel did Saturday, as the Florida Gators senior swimmer became the first person to win three gold medals in one day at either the Olympics or World Championships.
Dressel pulled off his golden trifecta by taking home two individual golds in the span of just more than half an hour by touching first in both the 50-meter free and the 100-meter butterfly — an event in which he swam the second fastest time ever, just fractionally missing a record held by Michael Phelps — and then helping the U.S. win the mixed 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay.
It was a signature moment in a week that had not lacked for them. Dressel has collected six gold medals in Budapest — one more than Katie Ledecky, who entered the event with her own sights set on a massive medal haul.
The Florida senior began his week in Hungary last Sunday by setting two American records and getting gold in the men’s 4 x 100-meter free relay. He swam a record time of 47.26 seconds in his leg of that event, and churned out a 22.76-second sprint in the men’s 50-meter butterfly semifinal.
But he could not match that time on the second day of competition, when Dressel finished in fifth in the finals in that race, his only podium miss of the week to date. (Had he clocked another 22.76 in the finals, Dressel would have taken silver — and by only a hundreth of a second.)
On Wednesday, Dressel earned his second gold of the week in the mixed 4 x 100-meter medley relay. He swam the fly for Team USA, which set a world record in the event with a posted time of 3:38.56 — which, incredibly, eclipsed the record the Americans had already set earlier in the week by more than a second and a half. Dressel blazed a 49.90-second split in his leg, just the second 100-meter fly split to ever have broken 50 seconds — and the first such split record clocked by someone other than Phelps.
Dressel picked up his first individual gold of the Worlds on Thursday, with a 47.17-second showing in the men’s 100-meter free final. In Friday’s action, Dressel posted the fourth and fifth fastest times ever in the 100-meter fly and set a new American record in the 50m free (21.29). Those times qualified him for Saturday’s finals in those events, setting the stage for one of the most glorious days a swimmer has ever had.
That new American 50-meter freestyle record was first to fall, as Dressel bested himself to set another one in 21.25 seconds, winning the first gold for the U.S. in that event since 2007 with the third fastest performance in history.
You're gonna wanna see this race from @caelebdressel in the 50m free! But don't blink or you might miss his gold medal winning performance! pic.twitter.com/xjHEqiucj0— Gators Swim & Dive (@GatorsSwimDv) July 29, 2017
A half-hour after that, Dressel picked up his second gold medal of the day, and fifth overall at the Worlds, in the 100-meter fly. He swam a 49.86, good for the second fastest time ever in that event. That time is just .04 seconds off of Phelps’ world record, set in 2009.
You may all be feeling a little bit of deja vu this afternoon, but no, CAELEB DID IT AGAIN!! Watch the 100m fly win here pic.twitter.com/0yuKEuR42c— Gators Swim & Dive (@GatorsSwimDv) July 29, 2017
That double is unprecedented, as no man had previously won both the 100-meter freestyle and butterfly at a single World Championships.
That feeling after winning your second gold medal in under an hour pic.twitter.com/zlTKxE9Bp1— Gators Swim & Dive (@GatorsSwimDv) July 29, 2017
Dressel’s third gold medal of the day, and sixth overall, came as part of the mixed 4 x 100-meter free relay team, which set a new world record of 3:19.60 that lowered the previous record by more than three seconds. Dressel staked the Americans to the lead with a 47.22-second split, and teammates Nathan Adrian, Mallory Comerford, and Simone Manuel helped the U.S. dust the Netherlands by more than two seconds.
Predictably, Dressel’s amazing week has some of the sport’s drawing comparisons to the world’s most famous aquatic athlete. But he’s not done yet: The World Championships continue on Sunday, and Dressel is expected to compete in the men’s 4 x 100 medley relay, an event in which the U.S. is the likely victor, and so could find himself picking up a seventh gold medal.
A special week for an exceptional talent could still get even better.
Definitely not an image we are going to get sick of seeing!! #GoGators pic.twitter.com/PI2V0xVjJA— Gators Swim & Dive (@GatorsSwimDv) July 29, 2017
Longtime swimming commentator Rowdy Gaines may have said it best.
It's now Caeleb Dressel's world and we are just living in it. #FINABudapest17 pic.twitter.com/8H2cjPcslR— Rowdy Gaines (@RowdyGaines) July 29, 2017