The University of Florida student on Saturday became the first swimmer to win three golds in one night at a major international meet and went on to end a remarkable World Aquatics Championships in Budapest with seven world titles, equaling a record held by Michael Phelps.
So bright is Dressel’s future that, according to former world champion Mark Foster, the American can not only dominate his sport like Phelps — the most decorated Olympian in history — but add a “sexiness” to the pool which Usain Bolt has brought to the athletics track.
It is Dressel’s command of swimming’s blue riband event, the 50m freestyle — an event Phelps did not compete in — which draws the comparisons with Jamaican Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion and the 100m and 200m world record holder.
“He’s definitely the new face of world swimming,” Foster, a former 50m fresstyle world record holder, told CNN Sport.
“Clearly, Michael Phelps has left a huge hole, that’s not saying someone needs to fill it.
“But 50m free is the glamor event, the most entertaining and exciting race. The man who wins the 50m free is the fastest swimmer on the planet.
“This guy is going to dominate in the same way as Phelps, but is also the fastest man on the planet so it’s also a bit like Usain Bolt. He’s going to bring a bit of sexiness to the sport.”
‘I’ve never seen anything like it’
On his record-breaking Saturday night, Dressel raced three times in two hours, winning the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly and helping the US triumph in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay.
By the end of the championships, Phelps — the only other man to win seven world titles at the same meet having done so in Melbourne in 2007 — was welcoming another member into his elite club.
Dressel told reporters that comparisons with Phelps, winner of 23 Olympic gold medals and 26 world titles, were “probably inevitable” before stressing that he was “not the same person as Michael.”
But Foster, one of the most successful British swimmers of all time, described Dressel as a “phenomenal” talent.
“His start is amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it,” added the Englishman.
“I used to have the fastest start in the world, but he’s obliterating people.
“Everyone will try to break it down and copy it. I’m not saying they won’t be able to break it down, but there’s also a natural ability that goes with it.
“Dressel is doing it better than anyone else has done it before and that’s probably because of his athleticism. He’s so powerful and springy, he’s like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. He’s got that X-Factor.
“Michael Phelps dominated because he was a little bit special and this guy is a little bit special.
“He’s still 20 and, generally, in sprint you don’t get to your prime until 25 or late 20s because you’re constantly getting stronger. He’ll get faster and will continue to push things forward.”
With the introduction of mixed relays at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Dressel could potentially bid to win seven gold medals at the next Olympics, putting him one short of Phelps’ all-time record of eight Olympic individual golds at a single Games.
“He’ll never win eight golds in one Olympics, he can’t do as many events as Phelps did, but he could potentially win seven, which is pretty special,” said Foster.
“It really will hopefully bring a lot more focus on the sport and the more focus it gets the bigger they [the swimmers] become. There still is a hole after Phelps and I’m not saying Caeleb is going to fill that, but he could do. The world of sport needs him.”