By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties | Saturday, July 28, 2018
IRVINE, Calif. – It took three trips to the finals, but Olympian Caeleb Dressel finally qualified for the 2018 U.S. Pan Pacific Championships Team Friday, winning the men’s 100m butterfly at the Phillips 66 National Championships in 50.50.
“I’m excited to be on the team,” Dressel said. “I did what I needed to do, and right now I’m on the team, and that’s what this meet is for. I do enjoy the pressure. It comes with the sport. It makes it fun and exciting.
“I’m setting up the next wo years for a race that lasts 50 seconds. I do enjoy that, and I didn’t want to crumble under that.”
That it’s taken him three trips to the finals this week to qualify for the Pan Pacs team came as a surprise to many.
Coming off a gold medal in the 400 free relay in Rio, Dressel won three events – the 50m free, and the 50m and 100m fly – and finished second in the 100m free at last year’s Phillips 66 National Championships in Indianapolis. He then capped 2017 with seven gold medals at the FINA World Championships in Budapest and was named FINA Male Swimmer of the Year and USA Swimming’s Athlete of the Year.
Expectations were high, but Dressel started the meet flat, finishing sixth in the 100m free on the first night of competition, and then placed second behind up-and-comer Michael Andrew in the 50m fly on Thursday.
“You can’t avoid it in this sport,” Dressel said. “I’ve had a couple good meets back to back. It’s kind of refreshing just to have a really bad swim. I’ll take in stride, take it stroke by stroke, and we’ll learn from it.”
He was back on top Friday, swimming to form down the homestretch of the 100 fly for the win. Touching behind him was Olympian Jack Conger in 51.11.
“I don’t know if I was anxious or nervous – just excited,” Dressel said. “The main thing is to stay hungry. When you have a target on your back, you can’t be complacent. You’ve got to stay hungry.
“I do enjoy the pressure. It comes with the sport. It makes it fun and exciting. I set myself up to do what I had to do, and now it’s time to take care of the 50 free. There’s a lot left in the tank for me as you can see, but it’s exciting.”
Women’s 400m IM
The women’s 400m IM came down to the wire, with four swimmers – Ally McHugh, Brooke Forde, Melanie Margalis and Leah Smith – going stroke-for-stroke down the homestretch.
In the end, it was McHugh who came out on top to win her first national title in 4:34.80. Less than a second separated her from the other top-four finishers. Forde was second in 4:35.09, followed by Margalis in 4:35.50 and Smith in 4:35.68.
With her win, McHugh qualified for the 2016 U.S. Pan Pacific Championships Team, which will compete Aug. 9-13 in Tokyo. Forde, and other second-place finishers in tonight’s Olympic events will likely be added to the roster later in the meet pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events.
While this may have been McHugh’s first national title, she won silver in this event at the 2017 World University Games.
“That was my first international meet, so that was a glimpse into everything,” McHugh said. “It was really eye-opening. I think that helped me get into the mindset where I know I can do this, I can be at this level.”
Men’s 400m IM
For the third straight year, Olympians and training partners Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland finished 1-2 in the 400m IM at Nationals. Kalisz’s time of 4:08.25 Friday was the fastest time in the world this year. Litherland’s 4:10.21 was the third-fastest.
“I think I’ll be better in Tokyo,” Kalisz said. “I think I did what I needed to do here, and I’m looking forward to the next meet.”
Women’s 100m Butterfly
Defending national champion Kelsey Dahlia made her move down the final 50 meters of the pool to win the women’s 100m butterfly over Katie McLaughlin, 56.83 to 57.51. It was the second win of the week for Dahlia, who took the 50m fly on Thursday night.
The second-place finish was also big for McLaughlin, who suffered a severe neck injury in early 2016. If she is added to the Pan Pacs roster this week – as is likely to be the case – it will be her first international competition since swimming at the FINA World Championships in 2015.
Women’s 50m Breaststroke
Lilly King defended her national title in the 50m breaststroke in 29.82, edging fellow Olympian Molly Hannis, who touched in 30.07. They are the top two swimmers in the world this year in this event. King is also the defending world champ and world record-holder.
“I’ll take it,” King said. “I had a disappointing 200 yesterday, and just being able to secure my sport for (next year’s) World’s team – I’ll take it.”
Men’s 50m Breaststroke
Michael Andrew won his second event of the meet Friday in the men’s 50m breast, breaking the U.S. Open and meet record he set in this morning’s prelims by two-hundredths of a second in 26.84. The 50 breast was one of three events Andrew swam in Friday night’s finals. He also finished third in the 100m butterfly and fourth in the 50m backstroke.
“If I had the choice, I probably wouldn’t swim three in one session, but that’s just how it lined up,” Andrew said.
Men’s and Women’s 50m Backstroke
Speaking of the men’s 50m back, Olympia Ryan Murphy set the U.S. Open, American and meet record in that event tonight in 24.22. Olivia Smoliga won the women’s 50m back in 27.70.
“Just securing a spot on the World’s team next year, that was kind of my goal there,” Murphy said. “To top it off with an American record is a lot more than I expected.”