Caeleb Dressel dominated the 100-meter butterfly at the world championships in South Korea on July 26, shaving 0.32 seconds off of Michael Phelps' previous record

By Georgia Slater
August 16, 2019 12:13 PM
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Even though he just broke the world record set by the most decorated Olympic athlete, Michael Phelps, 22-year-old American swimmer Caeleb Dressel says he still has room for improvement.

Dressel dominated the 100-meter butterfly at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, on July 26, touching in during a semifinal heat at 49.50 seconds, shattering Phelps’ record of 49.82 seconds which he set 2009.

“It was pretty special,” the Florida native tells PEOPLE in a new interview. “I know it was just a semifinal swim, but to have my name put down for a little point in time through the history of the sport of swimming, to have that one moment where you’re the greatest or the best … it was special for me to be able to share that with my mom and dad up in the stands, [I’ve] never done that before.”

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The swimmer shares that he grew up watching Phelps swim, “seeing that [record-breaking] race on YouTube multiple times.”

“It’s weird how the sport comes full circle … having it come all the way back to me was pretty cool,” he adds.

While Dressel was only on one team with Phelps, due to his young age, they still remained competitive. However, “at the end of the day we’re all representing Team USA and just want to support one another,” Dressel says.

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Dressel took home eight medals at this year’s World Championships, six gold and two silver — the first swimmer in history to do so. But, “the goal is not to count medals, it’s just racing the best I can,” the University of Florida graduate says.

Instead, the main goal remains becoming the best possible swimmer and person he can be.

Dressel cited his motivations as, “showing up, and waking up in the morning that I want to be a better person than I was yesterday. Kind of a race in self-improvement. Genuinely becoming obsessed with the idea of being the best possible person that I can be in and out of the water.”

“I enjoy the sport, I enjoy the challenge that it brings and it certainly does bring that for me and it’s not an easy one. But just improving each day that’s just the ultimate goal from now until I’m no longer on this earth.”

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The swimmer is expected to take part in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, which would mark his second Olympic games since competing in Rio in 2016 as a teenager. Dressel says he is looking forward to being back with the national team, as he doesn’t see the other swimmers very often.

When the team does get together, he reveals that they love to just “hang back.”

“We play a lot of Nintendo games, a lot of Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, a few different card games, really just stuff so we can stay loose and get your mind off of swimming before going into the meet with full focus,” he shares with PEOPLE.

But when it’s time to head into the meet, Dressel says, “we take a lot of pride in what we do and we want to keep that tradition going into 2020.”

To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin next summer on NBC.