Dressel, Ledecky lead US Olympic swim team with eyes on Australia

Caeleb Dressel headlines a US team aiming to maintain its supremacy in the Olympic pool in <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Paris;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Paris</a> (Maddie Meyer)
Caeleb Dressel headlines a US team aiming to maintain its supremacy in the Olympic pool in Paris (Maddie Meyer)

Resurgent stars Caeleb Dressel and Regan Smith, a stream of speedy newcomers and the ever-impressive Katie Ledecky will aim to maintain US supremacy in the Olympic pool in Paris, where a formidable Australian team awaits.

The intense nine days of the US trials -- where crowds topping 20,000 turned out at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts -- concluded Sunday and produced a team of 46 swimmers aching to reassert America's pool dominance after Australia topped the medals table at the 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

"You know, last year is last year, and this is a new season," said Anthony Nesty, the 1988 100m butterfly gold medallist for Suriname who will serve as head coach of the US men's team in Paris. "We are pretty confident."

Nesty has shepherded the comeback of sprint star Dressel, who won five gold medals at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games but stepped away from the sport in 2022 to tend to his mental health.

Dressel, 27, didn't qualify to defend his 100m freestyle gold, but he won the 50m free and 100m butterfly and if he's not the dominant figure of 2021 he remains a significant contender in both events.

Smith, who broke the 100m and 200m backstroke world records as a teenager back in 2019 but settled for silver and bronze in Tokyo cemented her return to peak form more emphatically, clocking a world record 57.13sec in the 100m backstroke, then adding the 200m back and 200m fly to her Paris programme.

Smith sliced two-tenths of a second off the 100m back world mark set by Kaylee McKeown last year, setting up a tantalizing clash with the Aussie in Paris.

Gretchen Walsh signalled her arrival as a long-course contender, shattering the 100m butterfly world record on the way to booking her first Olympic trip and locking up a spot in the 50m free with a runner-up finish behind another veteran on the comeback trail -- Simone Manuel.

Other Olympic veterans bound for Paris include reigning men's 800m and 150m free champion Bobby Finke, Ryan Murphy -- double backstroke gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Games -- breaststroker Lilly King, and, of course, Ledecky.

- Ledecky-Titmus showdown -

She qualified in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m free -- although she expects to drop the individual 200m to focus not only on winning a fourth straight 800m free gold and another 1500m crown but on regaining her 400m free crown.

Australia's Ariarne Titmus, who stunned Ledecky in the 400 in Tokyo, owns the world record and clocked the second-fastest time ever this month. Both she and Ledecky will also have to be wary of Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh.

Kate Douglass won three events at trials and Chris Guiliano qualified in three individual events -- winning the 100m free ahead of Jack Alexy.

Eight teenagers in the squad include the brother-sister duo of Aaron and Alex Shackell and 17-year-old Thomas Heilman, the youngest US male swimmer to make an Olympic team since 15-year-old Michael Phelps and 17-year-old Aaron Piersol competed in Sydney.

An array of countries -- China, Canada, Britain and host nation France -- will have strong contenders in multiple events, but it's the Australians who had US swimmers' attention after 2023.

Broadcaster NBC hyped the rivalry with comments from Aussie Cate Campbell branding the Americans "sore losers" in the wake of Fukuoka and crowing that it was "just so much sweeter beating America".

"Well," 23-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps said, "the good news is the Olympics will be here shortly and we'll be able to see what the results are."