Caeleb Dressel says the Tokyo Olympics took a significant toll on his mental health.
In a video interview published Wednesday, Dressel told journalist Graham Bensinger that he “felt so lost” in the months following last summer’s Games, prompting him to withdraw from part of International Swimming League competition.
He revealed that he spent part of Christmas Day in tears because he felt that, even six months later, he had yet to regain the sort of balance he wanted in his life.
“(My mindset was), ‘I need help with all this. Yeah. I need to talk to people more. I need to just be honest,’ ” Dressel said in the interview. “I felt so lost. I wanted to get away from the water, but then that’s also one of my safe places. So it was, again, a rock and hard place. Yeah, it was a pretty miserable couple months.”
Dressel, 25, won five gold medals in Tokyo and blossomed into one of Team USA’s biggest stars. But he said that, after returning to the U.S., he still quietly beat himself up because he had not hit the goal times he set for himself in any of his races.
“And that’s not fair to myself. That’s not fair at all,” he told Bensinger. “Like, I just won five gold medals on the biggest world stage in sports, and I’m thinking about how I wish I would’ve gone faster in certain events.”
Dressel said he suffered from panic attacks as a senior in high school, as his profile in the swimming world and the expectations surrounding him began to rise. And he described the spotlight leading up to Tokyo as being similarly brutal, particularly in the absence of legend Michael Phelps, who retired after the 2016 Games.
The Florida graduate also shared with Bensinger some excerpts from his training log in the leadup to the U.S. Olympic Trials, which included expletive-ridden passages in which he lamented his fitness. “(Expletive) me, (expletive) my body, (expletive) swimming,” he wrote after one training session.
“I just think the pressure built up,” Dressel said. “And then when it comes up, it just so happens that that certain point is when everyone wants to be in your business and ask, ‘how was the Games?’ “
Dressel said in the interview he’s now in a better spot mentally. He’s competing this week in the U.S. swimming trials in Greensboro, North Carolina, already qualifying for a spot in the world championships by winning the 100-meter freestyle Tuesday night.
“We’re vibing now,” Dressel told Bensinger, when asked to describe his mental state. “I needed the time I took off. It was longer than I would have thought, pre-Olympics.”