2020 Tokyo Olympics: What US Swimmer Caeleb Dressel’s Elaborate Animal Tattoos Mean

by Suzanne Halliburton

Caeleb Dressel, one of the breakout stars of the Tokyo Olympics, is a self-described “Florida Man.”

He grew up Green Cove Springs, Fla. which is south of Jacksonville. His dad is the local veterinarian. And so it was no surprise that Caeleb grew up with animals. Some of his pets included a ferret, pigeon and a rat.

With the endorsement deals he signed before the Tokyo Olympics, Dressel was able to buy some land and settle down with Meaghan, his high school sweetheart turned wife. And Jane, the black lab, lives with them.

“He’s got his wife, his farm and his dog,” a USA Swimming staffer told Sports Illustrated about Dressel. “That’s all he needs.”

Fans who are studying every moment of the Tokyo Olympics probably noticed Dressel’s tattoos. They cover his left arm and shoulder. They’re as much a part of his look as his swimsuit. And all his ink honors his Florida roots and inspire his swimming career.

Earlier this month, the Tokyo Olympics tweeted a short video clip to introduce Dressel. The former Florida Gator described what’s covering his left arm.

“I’ve always been fascinated by animals. I love animals. All mine on my sleeve are native to Florida. There’s an alligator, a black bear, an eagle.”

“I think there are a lot of things I can learn from animals and put into my swim career,” Dressel said. “The way they shut off and let instincts take over. It’s something I’m still trying to get in my sport.

Dressel’s Moment with Family Was a Sweet Tokyo Olympics Memory

Dressel’s moment with his family Wednesday night when he won his first-ever individual gold quickly went viral. After he won his race, NBC put him in touch with his family, via remote camera. They were watching in Orlando, Fla. Dressel was so overcome with emotion, he could barely speak.

The 24-year-old used an incredible start to surge ahead of the 100-meter field. Then he had enough kick to hit the wall first. His advantage over Australia’s Kyle Chalmers measured about a fingernail. Dressel won with an Olympic record time of 47.02 seconds. Chalmers swam a 47.08.

Dressel had been a part of three gold-medal-winning relays, including two from the 2016 Rio Games. But winning an individual race required its own special celebration. Dressel held his arms aloft. You could see his tattoos. Maybe he did take on the traits of an alligator as he surged through the water.

“Just trying to take in that moment,” Dressel said of his post-race celebration at the Tokyo Olympics. “I’m not going to relive (this race) ever again, so I wanted to take that in as much as I can.”

There should be more medals. In a prelim swim Thursday, Dressel qualified as the top seed for the 100-meter butterfly. He’ll also swim a leg on the 4X100 medley relay and try his luck in the 50 free. He’ll be a favorite in the race that requires a powerful start and initial kick. Dressel has the fastest start of any sprinter at the Tokyo Olympics.

Chances are good Dressel will be back atop the medals podium at least once, if not more. If he claims gold in the rest of his races, he’ll join some elite company. The only other male swimmers to earn three or more gold medals in a single Olympics are Mark Spitz (1972) and Michael Phelps (2004, 2008). That’s a pretty golden club.