The probability of the contingent of 31 Florida Gators heading to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics having one of the best trips in Gator Nation’s history was always dependent largely on that crew’s biggest star and what his fellow swimmers could collectively do in the pool.
Well, on Wednesday, Caeleb Dressel proved he’s more than just a relay stalwart by setting a new American record and holding off a fast field in the men’s 100-meter freestyle — and he didn’t swim the most thrilling race won by an American man.
Caeleb Dressel was overcome with emotion after breaking an Olympic record, and that continued in the locker room as his teammates applauded him. #TokyoOlympics x @TeamUSA— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 29, 2021
: NBC Sports App pic.twitter.com/uUxX8cU8YV
No, that performance belonged to current Gator Bobby Finke, who used a phenomenal final 50 meters to propel himself from off the podium at the far wall to the top of it by the final touch in the men’s 800 meters.
I FINKE. I CAN. @Robert_Finke takes GOLD in the first ever Olympic men's 800M freestyle in a THRILLER!— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 29, 2021
#TokyoOlympics x @TeamUSA
: NBC Sports App pic.twitter.com/OulFLF9tfY
And over the span of an hour in the water, the two Gators authored a two-gold day that puts the mythical Gator Nation high in the medal count — likely to stay.
Dressel’s gold — his fourth Olympic medal and Olympic gold, but his first from an individual event — combined with Finke’s to be the first pair of Olympic golds won by Gators on one day since August 9, 2012, when Christian Taylor took gold in the men’s triple jump and Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts each earned gold with the U.S. women’s soccer team, part of a scintillating five-medal day overall.
Notably, though, Wednesday appears to be the first time that two Gators have won gold in separate individual events in Olympic history, with even their torrent of 14 golds from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics largely earned from relays. And while Dressel was the favorite in the 100 free — and may be favored for gold in the rest of his individual events — Finke was considered only a likely medal contender in the 800, being contested at the Olympics for the first time, with +600 odds to top the podium.
That combination of a surprise win for Finke and Dressel asserting himself likely puts Gator Nation back on the pace for gold medals it was on when the Tokyo Olympics opened last week. It’s a shot in the arm after the expected gold in women’s softball for Michelle Moultrie, Aubree Munro, and Kelsey Stewart turned into a silver after a final loss to Japan and a questionable decision to leave Dressel off the start list for the 4x200 freestyle relay likely cost Team USA a spot on the podium in the event for the first time in Olympic history.
Dressel’s presence on that team would have been doubly helpful for Gator Nation’s total medal haul, as current Gator Kieran Smith also swam that event — brilliantly, one might add, leading off with a 1:44.74 leg that is just a quarter of a second worse than the opening leg Michael Phelps recorded in Team USA’s 2009 world record effort, put the U.S. ahead by almost a minute on Tuesday, and tied for the third-best leg of any man in the pool for the race — and would have stood to earn his second Olympic medal had the U.S. claimed one.
But Dressel is two-for-two on golds in his Tokyo medal opportunities, and his remaining chances at gold will be, well, golden. He’ll swim for individual gold in the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly, events that he enters as either or both the current short- and long-course world record-holder, and should contribute legs to the Team USA squads that should be heavy favorites in the men’s 4x100 medley relay and mixed 4x100 medley relay.
If he nabs gold from all six events — something that already earning the Olympic record in the 100 fly portends well for, assuredly — he will almost certainly be the single most decorated Olympian of this Games, while also shattering Gator Nation records — for most golds, individual golds, and individual medals — for similar. And even falling short of one or two golds wouldn’t be a calamity, as Dressel combining metals for a six-medal haul, something only 25 athletes had ever accomplished in one Olympiad prior to Tokyo, would only be disappointing in relation to his otherworldly talents and the commensurate hopes.
And then one has to consider that Gator Nation’s fortunes in Tokyo do not rest on Dressel alone. Over the next week, as the athletics portion of these Games begins, prohibitive 110-meter hurdles favorite Grant Holloway and two-time Olympic medalist Will Claye will get their chances to star, and team sports will give Canadian women’s soccer’s Adriana Leon and Deanne Rose, Team USA baseball catcher Mark Kolosovary, and a handful of other Gators their own shots at Olympic gold.
Gator Nation is unlikely to wring two golds out of one day at this Olympics from here on in without Dressel making that happen himself. But the Gator Nation at this Olympics is more than just Caeleb Dressel — and the cavalry is coming.
Gator Nation at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (through July 29, 2021)
- Gold medals: Caeleb Dressel, men’s 100-meter freestyle and men’s 4x100 meter freestyle (United States); Bobby Finke, men’s 800-meter freestyle (United States)
- Silver medals: Michelle Moultrie, Aubree Munro, Kelsey Stewart, women’s softball (United States)
- Bronze medals: Kieran Smith, men’s 400-meter freestyle (United States); Natalie Hinds, women’s 4x100 meter freestyle relay
- Total traditional medal count: Three gold, one silver, two bronze, six total
- Total individual medals earned: Three gold, three silver, two bronze, eight total
- Gator Nation medal count placement: 10th, behind Germany and ahead of Italy