Caeleb Dressel finally got a chance to do his stuff at the US Olympic swimming trials, and his fist-pounding, crowd-stirring reaction to his 100m freestyle victory was a celebration of more than his first ticket to Tokyo.
"This meet was prolonged a year," Dressel said of the agonizing wait that prospective 2020 Olympians have gone through since the Tokyo Games were postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. "It was more than 'I won a 100 free.'
"There was a lot of emotion in this: all the struggles through quarantine, finding pools to train at. All of that packed into one race."
Dressel finished sixth in the 100m free at the Rio Olympics, but earned gold in the 4x100m free relay in 2016.
Since then, he's emerged as a multi-event star, winning a record eight medals -- six gold -- at the 2019 world championships.
With Phelps retired, that makes Dressel the face of the US men's team, a role that takes some getting used to and one that made the five-day wait for his first final at the trials on Thursday night "miserable".
"It wasn't just the 100 free for me," Dressel said. "There was just a lot going on, a lot of outside pressure that I've gotten better and better at ignoring."
Dressel will have plenty to keep him occupied over the final three days of the trials.
He led the way into the semi-finals of the 200m butterfly on Friday with a world-leading 50.17sec, surpassing the 50.18 clocked by Hungarian Kristof Milak at the European Championships in May.
Dressel's time is the ninth fastest ever, a signal that his own world record of 49.50 could be under threat this week.
He'll close out his qualifying campaign with the 50m free on Saturday and Sunday.
"I wish 100 free was a little bit earlier so I could kind of get that weight off the shoulders," Dressel said. "I'm fine with where we're at right now."