Swimming: More US gold after Dressel’s busy night and Ledecky’s threepeat

Caeleb Dressel did not even have time to walk to the practice pool.

The American star’s schedule was so tight that he warmed up for his third race of the morning by gently swimming laps of the diving pool while Advance Australia Fair played during a medal ceremony at the other end of the arena to honour Kaylee McKeown’s victory in the women’s 200m backstroke.

As the dust and droplets settled after an intense session, Dressel had a fifth gold medal to add to his collection and he looks poised to add another on the final day of Olympic swimming in Tokyo.

It was 10.33am local time when the 24-year-old dived in at the start of the 100m butterfly final, improving on his own world record with a time of 49.45 as he finished first ahead of the Hungarian, Kristof Milak.

Next, at 11.19, was his 50m freestyle semi-final. The Florida native exhaled deeply as he walked languidly to his lane, giving an impression of weariness that was entirely belied by his performance. He qualified for the final with the fastest time, only 0.12 seconds off the Olympic record.

Finally, to complete Caeleb’s Busy Day, he was the only man to swim the anchor leg among the eight nations contesting the final of a new event, the 4x100m mixed medley relay.

That began at 11.47. The US finished a vexing fifth, three seconds behind Great Britain’s gold medal-winning world record time, after a setback when Lydia Jacoby’s goggles slipped off her face as the 17-year-old Alaskan swam the second leg.

Still: three Olympic races in less than 80 minutes, roared on by a couple of dozen teammates and officials in the stands who yelled U-S-A! and banged thunder-sticks. They were all sprints but Dressel probably deserves some sort of award for stamina.

Such is his desire to be present in the moment, to absorb the sights and sounds of his second Olympics, that even the butterfly medal ceremony – which took place shortly before the freestyle semis, the kind of preparation disruption any Olympian would welcome – looked draining.

His eyes darted as he gazed around, taking everything in, making a mental recording of the scene. Then he closed them as he soaked in the sound of the Star Spangled-Banner for the third time this week, hand over his heart, fingers tapping the Olympic rings in the Team USA logo on his jacket. In an Olympics where the emphasis is on distancing, Dressel wants to embrace the experience as closely as he can.

“I knew today was going to be busy. My body held together a little better than I thought it would to be honest, mentally it got a little easier,” he said. “I wouldn’t want that every day but I can handle it for a day or two.”

Dressel, who won his first individual gold here in the 100m freestyle to add to a title in the 4x100m freestyle and two relay triumphs in Rio, admitted to some nerves beforehand. “I was like, telling my brain to shut up, to be honest, because it was a little bit annoying,” he said.

“Mentally it actually got a little easier each race which is really weird to say. I was a little out of sorts in the ready room for the fly. Sport was a lot more fun when no one knew my name, to be honest. So I was a little shaky, it was kind of weird.”

If Dressel’s hectic timetable and the medley relay were adventures into the unknown, another American gold was eminently predictable. Katie Ledecky touched the wall first in the 800m freestyle for the third successive Olympics, concluding her time in Tokyo with two golds and two silvers. She won four golds and a silver in Rio. Added to her title in London, she now has six individual Olympic golds, more than any other female swimmer.

Ledecky has not lost an 800m freestyle race since 2010, when she was 13. Her winning time here was 8:12.57. Her most recent world record, 8:04.79, set in Brazil, is more than nine seconds quicker than the mark set by Rebecca Adlington in Beijing in 2008, where the British swimmer improved on a record that had stood for nearly 19 years.

While Ariarne Titmus ended Ledecky’s sprint supremacy earlier in the week, there is no doubt who still dominates over longer distances. Ledecky finished more than a second ahead of the Australian, who took silver.

Titmus, 20, swam the fastest-ever time by a woman not named Kathleen Genevieve Ledecky. Paris should be interesting; Ledecky will be 27. “I’ve known for a while now that I’m going at least until 2024,” she said, swatting away any suggestion of retirement. Why would she quit when she is still winning and, above all, enjoying her job?

“I’m just going to keep doing it until I feel like it’s time,” she said. “Obviously the Olympics in 2028 are in LA so that’s out there and appealing, also.” Not, she conceded, that it gets any easier: “It hurt. There wasn’t a point in the race where I felt like I was really going down or falling off the pace or anything but afterwards it really hurt.”

The next generation of American talent was in lane five, right next to her, as 15-year-old Katie Grimes, the youngest US Olympian in Tokyo, finished fourth. “Fun to see her kick off her Olympic career and I know that she has a very bright future ahead of her,” Ledecky said.

There was the sense of a chapter closing in the 50m freestyle as Simone Manuel finished joint-sixth in her semi-final. Manuel, who turns 25 on 2 August, was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome and failed to qualify for the US team in the 100m freestyle, the event in which she won an historic gold in Rio. She anchored the US to a 4x100m freestyle bronze medal in Tokyo.

“I know that my body and my mind needs a break, but I still love this sport,” she said, struggling to contain her emotions. “I think a victory is not giving up and I did it, I had the courage to go out there and try and possibly fail.”