(Updated ~ see end note) Eight Olympic medals in one Games. Only two men have done it.
They would be Michael Phelps, the American swimming icon who collected six golds and two bronzes in 2004 (at age 19) and then eight golds in 2008 (at age 23), and Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin, who won 8 medals (3-4-1) at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Four others have won seven medals in a single Games, back as far as 1920.
But in Tokyo in 2021, one has to consider the possibility that American swimmer Caeleb Dressel could win nine.
Crazy? Impossible? Why even talk about it?
Because of what Dressel, 24, did over the weekend at the International Swimming League final in Budapest, Hungary, in a short-course (25 m) pool. He won five events in stunning fashion: the 50 m Free (world record), 100 m Free (American record), 50 m Fly (0.05 off his own American record), 100 m Fly (world record), and 100 m Medley (world record)
Stack that on top of seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships and six golds at the 2019 World Championships (plus two silvers = eight total medals) and you have to consider it.
And, in 2016, Dressel – having just finished his sophomore season at Florida – entered seven events at the U.S. Olympic Trials, including the 50-100-200 m Freestyles, 100 m Backstroke, 100 m Breaststroke, 100 m Butterfly, and the 200 m Medley.
He finished fourth in the 50 m Free, was second in the 100 m Free – eventually winning two relay golds in Rio – and seventh in the 100 m Fly. He skipped 100 m Back, 100 m Breast, competed in the 100 m Fly heats but withdrew before the semis, was eliminated in 200 m Free heats and disqualified in the heats of the 200 m Medley.
In Omaha next year, he could be looking at the 50-100-200 m Frees, 100 m Fly and 200 m Medley: five events vs. five in 2016. This is doable.
His path to the most medals ever won at an Olympic Games will be significantly harder than his eight-medal performance at the 2019 Worlds because the 50 m Butterfly is not an Olympic event. But it’s possible thanks to a potential four relay medals and Dressel’s stated desire to compete in the 200 m Free and after his ISL final, perhaps also in the 200 m Medley.
Dressel will be a heavy favorite for the U.S. team in the 50 and 100 m Frees and the 100 m Fly. Let’s assume he makes the team – top two, remember – in the 200 m Free (a tall order) and the 200 m Medley (another tall order).
Then, let’s go day by day with Dressel in Tokyo; the events are in order and are shown by day in local time:
Day 1: 24 July ~ evening:
Day 2: 25 July ~ evening:
● Men’s 200 m Freestyle heats
● Men’s 4×100 m Freestyle heats (not likely to swim)
Day 3: 26 July ~ morning:
● Men’s 200 m Freestyle semifinals
● Men’s 4×100 m Freestyle FINAL (U.S. favored for gold)
Day 4: 27 July ~ morning:
● Men’s 200 m Freestyle FINAL (could he really win a medal here?)
Day 4: 27 July ~ evening:
● Men’s 100 m Freestyle heats
● Men’s 4×200 m Freestyle heats (may have to swim this round)
Day 5: 28 July ~ morning:
● Men’s 100 m Freestyle semifinals
● Men’s 4×200 m Freestyle FINAL (possible medal if he’s on the team)
Day 5: 28 July ~ evening:
● Men’s 200 m Medley heats
Day 6: 29 July ~ morning:
● Men’s 100 m Freestyle FINAL (Dressel favored for gold)
● Men’s 200 m Medley semifinals
Day 6: 29 July ~ evening:
● Men’s 100 m Butterfly heats
● Mixed 4×100 m Medley heats (not likely to swim)
Day 7: 30 July ~ morning:
● Men’s 100 m Butterfly semifinals
● Men’s 200 m Medley FINAL (really, a medal here too?)
Day 7: 30 July ~ evening:
● Men’s 50 m Freestyle heats
● Men’s 4×100 m Medley heats (not likely to swim)
Day 8: 31 July ~ morning:
● Men’s 100 m Butterfly FINAL (Dressel favored for gold)
● Men’s 50 m Freestyle semifinals
● Mixed 4×100 m Medley FINAL (U.S. favored for gold)
Day 9: 1 August ~ morning:
● Men’s 50 m Freestyle FINAL (Dressel favored for gold)
● Men’s 4×100 m Medley FINAL (U.S. favored for gold)
This schedule is difficult, but certainly not impossible – 20 swims in eight days, with five on relays – as the events are fairly well spread out across the last eight days of the schedule, with the first day off.
Dressel is absolutely favored for medals in the 50-100 m Frees, 100 m Fly and three relays, which would be six medals. He will have a lot of work to do just to make the U.S. team, let alone win medals, in the 200 m Free and 200 m Medley, but who is to doubt him after his showing in Budapest? And if he is on the U.S. team in the 200 m Free, he’s sure to be on the 4×200 m Free relay squad.
This will make the USA Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha in mid-June of 2021 the gateway for Dressel to try for something even Phelps did not do. The drama starts now.
(Update: Thanks to Olympic super-statistician Dr. Bill Mallon for correctly noting Dityatin’s eight-medal performance in Moscow: 3 gold, 4 silver, 1 bronze.)
For our 526-event International Sports Calendar from October 2020 to June 2021, by date and by sport, click here!