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During mental health awareness month, Caeleb Dressel talks struggles on road to Olympic swimming gold in Tokyo

The five-time gold medalist says he wrestled with depression amid Olympic pressure in a new interview.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This story was originally reported by Clayton Freeman at the Florida Times-Union.

The video attached to this story is from a previous, related report.

For Olympic swimming champion Caeleb Dressel, last year's quest for gold leading up to the Tokyo Olympics took a mental toll.

The five-time Olympic champion detailed his battles with depression and panic attacks amid the stress of international competition during a broadcast interview for the series In Depth with Graham Bensinger.  

The Green Cove Springs native, who broke state and national records swimming at Clay High School and the Bolles Sharks club, was interviewed at his home near Gainesville earlier in April.

Dressel won five gold medals in Tokyo in 2021, but as he discussed during the interviews — already published in sections on YouTube — the pressure built to a stifling intensity.

"I think that's what makes me great, but I think that can also be detrimental if I want to have longevity in the sport," he said.

The swimming champion revisited the struggles that paused his swimming career during a stretch of his senior year of high school and opened up samples from his self-critical and sometimes profanity-littered pre-Olympic logbooks, with entries from May 2021 carrying messages like, "My body is done."

Even after his gold medals in Japan, he expressed disappointment with his times.

"There's a totally different side of the sport that a lot of people don't see.. I try to be as honest with myself as I can," he said.

His mother, Christina Dressel, also described seeing a giant mural of Caeleb Dressel at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year in Omaha, and receiving an up-close view of the spotlight shining on her son.

"The whole wall is Caeleb. And it's like, 'Oh, no pressure here, Caeleb.' I think it wouldn't be as dominant as it was if Phelps was still kind of on the platform. But because there's no Phelps, it literally gets dumped on him," she said.

The 25-year-old won seven gold medals at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Hungary and eight more, six gold, in the 2019 championships in South Korea, events where he established himself as the world's leading sprinter and the face of American swimming following the retirement of Michael Phelps.

Dressel, however, expressed more optimism about his current mental outlook. This week, he has returned to the pool at the Phillips 66 International Team Trials in Greensboro, N.C., the qualifying meet for the United States squad at this summer's FINA World Championships. He has already won the 100-meter freestyle, 50 butterfly and the 100 fly.

The episode is scheduled to air in full this weekend. You can watch it on Sunday at 11 p.m. online at grahambensinger.com/2022/04/27/caeleb-dressel/.

This story was originally reported by the Florida Times-Union.

    

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