At the 18th FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea it was clear that Dressel was focused on going home with a neck full of gold. Not only did he do just that; he also made history and surpassed Michael Phelps’s achievements in the process. Dressel won eight medals in Gwangju, six gold, two silver. He also established a new world record for medals at the World Championships, strongly affirming himself as a force to be reckoned with and the next rightful heir to Phelps’ title as the best swimmer in the world. 

During the competition, in just one-hour Dressel won individual gold in the 50m Freestyle and 100m Butterfly, recording the fastest time in history in the latter. He later returned to the pool to lead the American mixed 4x100m Freestyle relay team to a win. The "three-gold night" matched a similar haul for Dressel at the 2017 World Championships: He is the only man to win three golds in one night of competition at the event twice, after previously being the only man to do that even once.

If that wasn’t enough, Dressel ended up smashing his world record to win the men's Olympic 100m Butterfly at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics to win his third gold medal during the infamous ‘duel in the pool’ against Hungarian 200m Butterfly champion Kristof Milak (HUN).   

Dressel was always the man to beat, having set the third-fastest time ever in the heats with no other active swimmers before the final even close to his world record. The world champion finished in first place, setting a world best of 49.45 seconds to better his own previous time of 49.50 set at the 18th FINA World Championships. Hungarian 200m fly champion Milak was a close second in 49.68. 

After the race nail-biting final in Tokyo, Milak said: 

"That was the maximum I could give,” Milak added. “I am happy that Caeleb needed a world record to beat me."

Dressel later spoke to Reuters saying: "It was extremely close. Kristof swam a wonderful race, and it took a world record to win the Olympic final. And I don't think it happens that often in the Olympics. To have two of the fastest times in history, it's amazing. To do that with them right next to me in lane 5 that's really special. I think it was really fun to watch and I have a lot of respect for Kristof.”

Caeleb Dressel 100m Butterfly progression

2016 - 52.22  US Olympic Team Trials - Swimming

2017 - 49.86  17th FINA World Championships 2017

2018 - 50.50   US National Championships (50m)

2019 - 49.50   18th FINA World Championships 2019

2020 - 50.92    TYR Pro Swim Series Des Moines 2020

2021 - 49.45    Olympic Games Tokyo 2020