By Peter Rutherford
GWANGJU, South Korea (Reuters) – Caeleb Dressel swam within himself in the 100 meters butterfly heats and eased up in the 50 freestyle preliminaries yet no one was able to get a jump on the American at the world championships in Gwangju on Friday.
On course to repeat his record-equaling seven-gold medal haul from Budapest in 2017, the Florida native has been a class apart in South Korea where he has already won three world titles and a rare silver from the mixed medley relay.
After posting 50.28 in an energy-conserving swim to top the butterfly, the 22-year-old was back an hour later to zip home first with a 21.49 in the 50 freestyle.
He will return to the pool later on Friday for both semi-finals.
“It’s a pretty fast turnaround from the fly, so really I just wanted to be making it back, top 16. I did that,” he said after the freestyle sprint.
“But it was good, a nice smooth swim. Kind of slowed it down at the end. Wanted to save some for tonight.”
Joseph Schooling, who became Singapore’s first Olympic gold medalist when he beat Michael Phelps in the 100 butterfly at the Rio Games, did not make it out of his heat.
Finishing equal 24th fastest, the 24-year-old is still in a transition phase as readjusts to life in the city-state since returning from Texas earlier this year.
“This was a huge reality check of what I need to do moving forward,” he said. “But it’s just a transition period and it’s a learning curve.”
While it has already been a world championships to remember for Dressel, it has been one to forget for freestyle great Katie Ledecky.
Denied a fourth straight gold in the 400 by Australia’s Ariarne Titmus on Sunday, the American has so far failed to add to her 14 world titles in Gwangju and pulled out of the 200 heats and 1,500 final for medical reasons earlier in the week.
Ledecky won silver as part of the 4×200 freestyle relay team on Thursday evening and she was back in the pool for the 800 heats on Friday.
But while she qualified in second place behind compatriot Leah Smith (8:17.23), she does not appear restored to full health yet.
The 22-year-old did not take the usual route from the pool past reporters after her swim and was said to be “struggling”.
Still on a high from helping Australia beat the Americans to gold in the relay on Thursday, Titmus qualified third fastest for the 800 final and said she was looking forward to racing Ledecky on Saturday night.
“She’s the best and hopefully she pushes everyone else along to swim big times,” she added.
In the women’s 200 backstroke heats, Regan Smith set the standard with a time of 2:06.01, with Hungary’s medley queen Katinka Hosszu next best, 2.33 seconds behind the American.
Swedish butterfly specialist Sarah Sjostrom has been kept off the top of the podium so far in Gwangju but qualified quickest for the 50 in 25.39.
Italy’s men topped the times for the 4×200 freestyle relay (7:04.97) ahead of Russia and the United States.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)