TOKYO — Caeleb Dressel had already done everything under the Japanese sun when, a little before noon here on Sunday, shortly after receiving his fourth gold medal of these Olympics, he dove into a pool one final time.
Only three male swimmers had ever won a fifth gold medal at a single Olympics.
Dressel, to join the list, would have to erase a deficit. He took on the third leg of the men’s 4x100 medley relay, an Olympic event the U.S. had never lost, with his team in third place.
Over the next 49 seconds, he left his permanent mark on these Games, on a week he’ll never forget. He didn’t just swim his teammates into first. He propelled them to a world record.
Dressel, Ryan Murphy, Michael Andrew and Zach Apple kept a remarkable streak alive here on the final day of swimming at the Tokyo Games. It has transcended eras and individuals, rose above international challenge after international challenge, and persisted for 61 years, interrupted only by .
Here in Tokyo, it received its fiercest challenge yet, from Great Britain, which topped the U.S. in the event at 2019 world championships. Heading into the third leg of Sunday’s Olympic final, Team GB led the Americans by more than half a second.
But the Americans had Dressel, who met exorbitant expectations and then some throughout the week. He swam the butterfly relay leg faster than anybody in the history of the sport ever had. His 49.03-second split outpaced each of his seven peers by more than a full second. It gave Apple a lead, which he held, and a shot at the world record, which he and the other three knew they could break.
On Saturday night, U.S. head coach Dave Durden and managing director Lindsay Mintenko had sat down with them and told them as much. Dressel, Murphy, Andrew and Apple sat on a bench and listened. Durden and Mintenko showed them, via data, that if they swam how they’d swum in their individual events this week, the world record would be theirs.
Murphy did his part. Andrew did his part. Apple did his part, right after Dressel did his part. And my goodness did Dressel do his part.
He’d broken his own 100 fly world record a day earlier in 49.45 seconds. He went over four-tenths faster on Sunday, and claimed his fifth gold medal in his final 2021 Olympic swim. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“To end the meet with a relay,” Dressel said, “it’s really, really special.”
More from Yahoo Sports: