Why Caeleb Dressel tossed his first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics to a teammate in the stands

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TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 26: Caeleb Dressel of Team United States tosses his medal to Brooks Curry of Team United States after winning the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Caeleb Dressel tosses his gold medal to teammate Brooks Curry after the men's 4x100 relay final at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

TOKYO — Caeleb Dressel swam the first leg of the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay in lightning-quick time on Monday. He gave the U.S. a lead it never relinquished, and, less than an hour later, he stepped to a podium to receive his first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics.

Then he posed for some pictures, and stepped off the podium, and easily could have sauntered into interviews, hitched a ride back to the Olympic Village, and retired for the day with gold around his neck.

Dressel, instead, found 20-year-old teammate Brooks Curry in the Tokyo Aquatics Center stands. He called Curry down to the first row. And he flipped Curry the medal.

He did that because Curry's presence on the 4x100 relay team helped Dressel swim so fast this morning.

Curry joined Zach Apple, Bowe Becker and Blake Pieroni for preliminary heats on Sunday night. He swam a 48.84, much slower than Dressel's 47.26 some 15 hours later. But the U.S. qualified easily, and more importantly, precisely because the final was 15 hours later, Curry allowed Dressel to rest up.

The "flipped schedule" here in Tokyo — with prelims at night and finals in the morning, to appease NBC — has been problematic for some swimmers. "This is not something that we're used to," U.S. gold medalist Chase Kalisz said Sunday. "I've done it one time in my life. ... If you do everything right, as far as nutrition, getting massages on the table, getting recovery in, and eat, that leaves you with six hours of sleep, max."

Dressel, presumably, got more than six hours Sunday night.

"I had the easiest job last night out of everyone here," Dressel said Monday. "I got to watch it on TV. So I felt like [Brooks] deserved that a little more than me.“

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 26: Caeleb Dressel, Zach Apple, Blake Pieroni, Bowen Becker of Team United States pose with their gold medals for the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Caeleb Dressel (left), without his medal, poses with Zach Apple, Blake Pieroni and Bowe Becker, his relay teammates. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Both of them, ultimately, will get medals. Everyone who swims a relay leg in prelims or finals receives whatever medal the final foursome earns.

But prelims-only swimmers don't participate in medal ceremonies. They aren't involved on the biggest stage. So Dressel took matters into his own hands by taking his gold medal out of them, and reeled Curry into the spotlight.

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