Caeleb Dressel to defend Olympic 50m freestyle title. GETTY IMAGES

The American swimmer booked his place at Paris 2024 in one of the five events in which he is an Olympic champion after winning the US Olympic trials on Friday. After missing out on the 100m freestyle, he didn't falter in the 50m. He stopped the clock in 21.41, the fourth-best time of the year.

Caeleb Dressel seized the opportunity after finishing third in the 100m freestyle earlier in the day and regained his form at the half distance to win the trial with the fourth best time of the season, ahead of Cameron McEvoy.

Dressel won five gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games, including the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 100m butterfly. He has now secured his place at Paris 2024. His career has been a real rollercoaster ride. A 27-year-old swimmer with seven Olympic gold medals to his name, he suddenly retired from swimming in 2022. It was something that shook the swimming world, given the prominence he had achieved with his victories. He later failed to make the US team for the 2023 World Championships.

Dressel is back after eight months out of the pool. His body couldn't take the pressure any more and said enough is enough. He retired, stepped back and decided to take up all sorts of sports-related activities such as climbing, running and more, but not swimming. 

Dressel enjoyed his success at Lucas Oil in Indianapolis. GETTY IMAGES
Dressel enjoyed his success at Lucas Oil in Indianapolis. GETTY IMAGES

His life took a turn for the worse like so many athletes,including his idol Michael Phelps and gymnast Simone Biles, exceptional athletes who had to quit. Dressel did so after the 2022 World Championships in Budapest. He pulled out of the 100m freestyle final, despite being second fastest in the semi-finals. His health couldn't take it any more.

However, he gradually came to terms with what he does best. And in 2023 he returned, albeit far from his best. The birth of his son finally healed him and gave him another chance, and now he is back.

During these trials at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, he has shown brilliant form. His performance in the 50m freestyle was remarkable. He looked like his old self.

His mood is different from recent years. In Indianapolis, he shared his success with his wife, Meghan, who was in the stands holding their four-month-old son, August. Before greeting the crowd, Dressel made a powerful victory gesture to show he was back.

The trials also saw Chris Guiliano, winner of the 100m freestyle and runner-up in the 200m freestyle this week, finish second in 21.69. Matt King missed out on the Olympic spots by an agonising hundredth of a second, finishing third in 21.70. Dressel returned to set the fastest time of 50.79 in the semi-finals of the 100m butterfly.

Another highlight was Regan Smith, who started the week with a world record in the 100m backstroke final and followed it up with a wire-to-wire victory in the 200m backstroke in 2:05.16. Phoebe Bacon overtook reigning world champion Claire Curzan in the final metres to finish second in 2:06.27.

Smith is another notable case of an athlete with ups and downs, having set world records in the 100m and 200m backstroke in 2019 at the age of 17. However, she arrives at the Paris 2024 Games in optimal form. She is in contention for gold in both the backstroke and the 200m butterfly. She won the latter on Thursday. "I'm incredibly proud of this performance," Smith said. "In my opinion, it's a night and day difference between 2021 and now."

Carson Foster will be in Paris as the winner of the 400m individual medley after winning the 200m individual medley in 1:55.65. Shaine Casas will also be making his first Olympic team. He made the most of his last chance of the week. "This means everything," said Casas, who broke down in tears as he embraced Foster. Both will be in Paris in 2024.