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Stars realigned: Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel reassert American swimming dominance with wins

The confident pair represent the best of Team USA swimming, a world power having a lesser showing in the pool than in most Games.

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Caeleb Dressel swims in the 100m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2021. Marko Djurica / Reuters
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TOKYO — In their first Olympics since 23-times gold medalist Michael Phelps retired, the United States swimming team needed Caeleb Dressel to deliver, and with three gold medals, so far, he has certainly not let them down.

On Saturday, Dressel powered to the 100m butterfly title, adding to his success in the 100m freestyle and his gold medal from the 4x100m freestyle relay.

He has a chance of winning two more golds in Sunday's final session when he starts as favorite in the 50m freestyle and will be part of the men's 4x100 medley relay team.

Should he end with five golds he would match Phelps's haul from his last Games in Rio and surpass the four golds the American great won in London.

It has been a disappointing Games in the pool for the U.S team, who won 16 gold medals at each of the last two Olympics but head into Sunday's final events on 'just' eight.

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Katie Ledecky lost her 200 and 400 freestyle crowns to Australian rival Ariarne Titmus but came good in the 800 and 1,500 events, becoming the first female swimmer to win six individual golds.

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Katie Ledecky reacts after winning the women's 800m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2021. Grace Hollars / USA TODAY Sports

World swimming's most decorated woman, Ledecky is confident there's plenty more to come — and is already talking about a bid to reach the next two Olympics.

Ledecky said the idea of already being a sporting legend had never entered her mind.

"I don't know if even my first Olympic gold has sunk in fully, nine years later, so I think once I eventually retire I'll probably more fully appreciate it all," she said.

"I've always been moving forward, driving forward... I'll let this sit for a little bit longer."

Facing Australia's Ariarne Titmus, winner of gold medals in the 200m and 400m freestyle this week in thrilling late fightbacks, Ledecky took no chances on Saturday and led from the start, opening up a body length lead after 500 metres.

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Ledecky edged further ahead at every turn, shutting down any chance of a late charge from Titmus and finishing over a second ahead in 8:12.57.

"To win gold at the past three Olympics has been amazing and I never dreamed of making it to one Olympics when I first started swimming," she said.

The winner of 15 world titles said her sights were on the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and at just 24 years old, she isn't ready to rule out the Los Angeles Games four years after that.

"I'm just going to keep doing it until I feel like it's time," she said. "Obviously, like the Olympics in 2028 are in LA, so that's kind of out there and appealing."

Meanwhile, Dressel has given the U.S. team the kind of swagger and personality they have been known for down the years.

He is also willing to take on a full schedule.

After beating Hungarian Kristof Milak in the 100m butterfly in a world record time, 40 minutes later Dressel was posting the fastest time in the 50 freestyle semifinal — he even managed to cram in a medal ceremony in between.

Keeping loose in the diving pool, Dressel then returned for a third race in the mixed medley relay, swimming the anchor leg as the United States finished fifth.

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"Caeleb is a real leader on our team," Ledecky said. "I mean, it was so impressive what he did today swimming three races, and he leads, both in and out of the water."

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Katie Ledecky reacts after winning the women's 800m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2021. Grace Hollars / USA TODAY Sports

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