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Caeleb Dressel earns an individual race in Paris, winning 50m freestyle at US Olympic swimming trials

INDIANAPOLIS: After a long layoff and all the doubts about whether he’d reclaim his place as one of the world’s greatest swimmers, Caeleb Dressel looked like himself again Friday night.

Dressel earned his first individual race of the Paris Games, powering to a relatively easy victory in the men’s 50-meter freestyle at the US Olympic swimming trials.

One of the biggest stars in Tokyo with five gold medals, Dressel finished third in the first individual event, the 100 freestyle, which relegated him to the relay at that distance.

But he’ll get a chance to defend his 50 free title in Paris, blowing away the field in the all-out sprint from one end of the pool to the other at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s tough. That was a tough one,” Dressel said. “I was not super-confident until I got up on that block. There’s only so much you can do in the 50. It’s head down and go fast.”

Dressel did just that to touch in 21.41 seconds, not far off his winning time (21.07) at the last Olympics. Chris Guiliano claiming his third individual race in Paris with a runner-up finish of 21.69.

In the aftermath of his Tokyo success, Dressel stunningly walked away from swimming during the 2022 world championships. He later revealed what a toll the sport had taken on him, saying he needed to take an extended break to rediscover his passion at the pool.

Dressel failed to even qualify for the 2023 worlds, but these trials have provided proof that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in Paris.

About 35 minutes after his victory in the 50 free, Dressel returned for the semifinals of his final event, the 100 butterfly.

The tattooed Floridian showed more impressive speed, posting the fastest time of 50.79 to stamp himself as the favorite in the final Saturday night. Dare Rose was next at 51.11.

If Dressel can finish in the top two of that race, he would likely swim up to five events in Paris counting the relays — not far off his six-event program in Tokyo.

Regan Smith will also be swimming three individual events at the Olympics after winning the 200 backstroke.

Smith was under world-record pace through the first two laps, but faded a bit at the end to touch in 2 minutes, 5.16 seconds.

Still, she finished more than a second ahead of Phoebe Bacon, who grabbed the second Olympic spot in 2:06.27. She chased down reigning world champion Claire Curzan, who missed out on a berth in Paris with a time of 2:06.34.

Smith previously won the 100 backstroke in world-record time, along with a victory in the 200 fly. She just missed a fourth individual race in Paris with a third-place showing in the 100 fly.

Still, it’s been a dynamic meet for the Minnesota native, who has endured plenty of ups and downs since setting her first world record in 2019.

“I’m incredibly proud of this performance,” Smith said. “I ran out of gas in that last race, but its been a great meet for me.”

Guiliano edged Matt King for an Olympic berth by a hundredth of a second, with Jack Alexy taking fourth in 21.76.

Guiliano has emerged as a big star of these trials, heading to his first Olympics with three individual events on his plate. He won the 100 freestyle and was runner-up in the 200 free and now the 50 free.

Guiliano, who competes collegiately at Notre Dame, will be the first American male to swim those three events at the Olympics since the great Matt Biondi in 1988.

Carson Foster will be doubling up in Paris, adding a victory in the 200 individual medley to the title he won in the 400 IM.

Shaine Casas was under world-record pace through the first two laps, but Foster chased him down on the freestyle leg to win in 1:55.65.

Casas grabbed his first Olympic berth with a runner-up showing of 1:55.83 — a huge relief for a swimmer who was billed as a rising star ahead of the Tokyo Games but failed to qualify in either of his events at the 2021 US trials.

“This means everything,” Casas said. “Since I was a kid, it’s all I dreamed about. Now, I won’t have to pretend to be an Olympian. I am an Olympian.”

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