By Ryan Gregory
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Expectations were high for the 100-yard butterfly on the second full day of the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Five Olympians were competing in the event. The stakes were as high as the profiles of the swimmers. The energy just prior to the event was palpable.
Headlining the event was Texas junior Joseph Schooling. In the 2016 Olympics, Schooling swam for Singapore in the 100-meter butterfly and won the gold medal, defeating the United States and its iconic swimmer, Michael Phelps. Though he came into the event as a heavy favorite, his 44.97 second preliminary time was third best behind Florida junior Caeleb Dressel and Texas senior Jack Conger.
Conger set the standard for his opponents in the preliminaries. His 44.44 second swim set an Indiana University Natatorium record and gave him the fourth lane for the finals. Conger swam for the United States in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay team. While he did not swim in the final, Conger’s efforts earned him a gold medal when the United States won.
Dressel also swam for the United States at the 2016 Olympics. He was on a relay team with Phelps, Ryan Held, and Nathan Adrian. That foursome won the gold medal in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. Dressel swam a 44.49 second preliminary, which was the second best in the field.
Held, Dressel’s Olympic teammate, was another participant. His gold medal also comes from that 4×100 meter freestyle relay team where he swam with Dressel, Phelps, and Adrian. The North Carolina State junior posted a 45.21 second preliminary swim, which was the fourth best.
Finally, California freshman Zheng Quah also participated. Quah made a name for himself at the 2016 Olympics swimming for Singapore. He made the semifinals in the 200-meter butterfly, but failed to make the finals. Quah swam a 45.27 in preliminaries, the fifth best of his opponents.
The stage was set for a sensational final swim. The Olympians were next to each other in the lanes; Quah in lane 2, Schooling in 3, Conger in 4, Dressel in 5, and Held in 6. The five Olympians took their marks, set in for the battle ahead, and spring into the water.
From the offset, it seemed like Schooling was set for a repeat. Schooling won last year’s 100-yard butterfly in record setting fashion with a marvelous 44.01 second swim. He was up to usual dominance in the first 50 yards as he built a half-body lead. Coming into the last turn, however, there was some commotion out of lane 3. Dressel was gaining quickly on Schooling. When the hands hit the wall, it was Dressel who emerged victorious. With the victory, Dressel also wrote his name in the record books with a time of 43.58, shattering the NCAA, U.S. Open, Championship, American, and pool record.
“That’s how I swim my 100 fly, ever since being coached by (Gregg) Troy. I don’t breathe the last 25 (yards),” said Dressel on his come-from-behind victory. “That’s just how I do it. As soon as I turned at the 75, I saw where the other guys were at and knew I had a chance.”
While Olympians are common in the NCAA Championships, rarely does the sporting world have the privilege of seeing so many compete in the same event. The level of competition is high, but so is the respect these swimmers hold for each other.
“He’s one of the hardest guys to beat,” said Dressel about Schooling. “He has this ambiance about him. He carries his confidence with him. He’s always got a smirk on his face and you just can’t beat the kid. He’s a great guy. I respect that so much.”