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UF’s Caeleb Dressel wins first gold medal

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Michael Phelps captured the attention of the world’s Olympic watchers on Sunday night. He won his first gold medal of 2016 and 19th overall as part of the men’s 400-meter freestyle relay.

Part of that relay team was Caeleb Dressel of Green Cove Springs, who won his first medal in his first attempt as an Olympian. Dressel swam the first leg of Sunday’s relay before turning it over to Phelps for the second leg.

“I just wanted to get my hand on the wall and do the best I could for our relay boys and everyone watching,” Dressel said soon after the race concluded.

Phelps, Ryan Held and Nathan Adrian maintained a slim lead over the French and Australian swimmers to earn the first gold medals for the latter two swimmers. The U.S. recaptured the gold in this event after losing in the 2012 finals in London.

“It’s great to bring that relay back to American soil,” Phelps said afterward.

While the international career of Phelps is winding down, Dressel is a rising star in the world of freestyle swimming. The University of Florida junior won this year’s NCAA championships in both the 50 meter and 100-meter freestyle events.

He is now becoming more well-known than just around the Jacksonville and Gainesville area. Even before the Olympic trials, Olympic legends like Rowdy Gaines saw something special in him.

“Every once in a while, an athlete like that comes along and is just magical to watch in the water and he is,” said Gaines, who serves as NBC’s Olympic swimming analyst for the Rio games. He’s just the type of kid that has an incredible feel for the water.”

Dressel also has the temperament and concentration to be a perennial champion. Just ask his coach.

“His focus is amazing,” Gators Coach Gregg Troy told the Washington Post. “If we have a team meeting, it’s like you’re just talking to him.”

While more medals loom in Dressel’s future, he is not yet the most well-known Gator swimmer. That honor belongs to Ryan Lochte, who is swimming in his fourth Olympiad this year.

Dressel’s next event is Tuesday when he swims in the 100-meter freestyle preliminaries. While Adrian played a big role in Sunday’s relay, he will be seeking his second consecutive gold medal in this event.

In an unusual twist, organizers have placed Dressel and Adrian in the same heat. They will swim in the seventh of eight heats as the event will narrow the field to 16 semi-finalists.

The finals are Wednesday night at 10 p.m. Adrian finished one-half second ahead of Dressel in the Olympic Trials in July.

No matter what happens, Calaeb Dressel already has an Olympic memory of a lifetime.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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