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Who Is the Fastest Swimmer in the World? Meet Olympian Caeleb Dressel



Now that we’ve eclipsed the 80-day mark on our countdown to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France, the anticipation of the legendary tournament is conjuring up a multitude of memories from past brilliant competitions. And when you get down to the granular level of many of the most thrilling finishes, more than anything, speed always matters. Who could forget Michael Johnson storming through the finish line at the 1996 Atlanta Games in his sparkling gold racing shoes or Usain Bolt throughout the duration of his Olympic his career, casually blitzing ahead of the packs?

While that type of land speed is thrilling to watch, when it comes to the water, speed is a whole different beast. Considered one of the most difficult and exhaustive sports known to man, according to Medium, swimming forces athletes to breathe 30-40 times less than cyclists in water, which is 800 times denser than air, while enduring a dizzying heart rate drop of 20 beats per minute, due to the long time periods of swimmers lying horizontal. It’s as grueling as it gets, and it’s the reason most elite swimmers are devouring 10,000 calories per day — it’s not some insatiable lust for linguini.

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In the pool, speed is the result from a calculus of power, performance, and technique, all rolled into one package. While Katie Ledecky – who captured her first of seven Olympic gold medals at age 15 — reigns supreme on the women’s side for overall speed, 23-time gold medalist Michael Phelps is not the fastest male swimmer. That accolade goes to the 27-year-old Florida native Caeleb Dressel, Team USA’s swimming phenom, who’s aiming to make a big splash this July in France’s City of Light by being the fourth swimmer in history to earn seven medals in a single Olympiad.

How fast is Caeleb Dressel compared to Michael Phelps?

While Michael Phelps reached 8.8 miles per hour in a speed test against a Great White shark — yes, you heard correctly — and only lost to the apex predator by two seconds after posting a 100m time of 38.1 seconds, when it comes to the pool, Caeleb Dressel is strokes ahead of Michael Phelps. Though Phelps allegedly hit six mph in 2010, according to the Olympics website, his average speed was 4.7 mph in the 200m freestyle event in 2008. And yet, still, Dressel is faster, thanks to his vertical jump, perfectly angled entry dive into the water, and his unparalleled body control under water, according to his coach at the University of Florida, Gregg Troy.

“As humans, we’re not great aquatic animals,” Troy told First Coast News in 2018. “I look at videos of seals and penguins and sharks. It’s almost as if he’s [Dressel] starting to push and escape the limitations we humans have in water.”

That sentiment became a reality in 2017. During the World Championships that year in Budapest, per Fast Lane 4, data collected by German sports scientists shows that Dressel was the first human to swim faster than five seconds in the first 15m of a 50m freestyle event. Clocking just 4.96 seconds over that distance, Dressel was already more 3.2 tenths faster than Brazil’s Bruno Fratus, creating an insurmountable gap for the eventual silver medalist or any other challenger, hoping to catch him.

Caeleb Dressel’s Record-Breaking Race

Though one of Caeleb Dressel’s finest moments occurred at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in South Korea where, per the BBC, he shattered Michael Phelps’ 10-year-old 100m butterfly record of 49.82 by .32 seconds, Dressel’s performance during the 2020 International Swimming League final was nothing short of superhuman.

No stranger to executing incredible feats, Dressel, according to Swim Swam, unleashed another record-smashing display of dominance by finishing with a staggering time of 47.78 seconds in the 100m butterfly, beating Chad Le Clos’ record of 48.08 posted at the 2016 Short Course World Championships. In doing so, Dressel officially became the first person to swim the 100m butterfly in under 48 seconds. At the event, he further cemented his place in history by claiming a new 50m freestyle record of 20.16 seconds.

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Olympic Swimming Records

No one can know for sure if, at 27 years old, Caeleb Dressel will ever match Michael Phelps’s jaw-dropping number of 28 Olympic medals — 23 golds, of which 13 were individually won — Dressel is amassing an impressive set of Olympic hardware and records to accompany them.

Dressel secured two golds during the 2016 Rio Games (4 x 100m medley relay, 4 x 100m freestyle relay) and five during the 2020 Tokyo Games (100m butterfly, 100m freestyle, 4 x 100m freestyle relay, 4 x 100m medley relay and 50m freestyle). Not only did he set a new Olympic record of 21.07 in the 50m freestyle, he also set a new record of 49.45, according to NBC, en route to winning the gold in the 100m butterfly. He also set a new Olympic record in the 4 x 100m medley relay with a final time of 3:26:78 alongside teammates Ryan Murphy, Michael Andrew, and Zach Apple.   

To see if Dressel beats additional records in the coming months, tune in to the Olympic Trials, airing on the USA Network on Saturday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m. ET. Qualifying heats will air live on Peacock with same day delayed coverage each day on USA Network. Coverage of every final will air live on NBC and Peacock each night beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

And be sure to watch live coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, July 26, on NBC and Peacock beginning at 12 p.m. ET. Telemundo will provide Spanish-language coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Primetime coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and Peacock.

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