Dressel steps away, then returns

Seven-time Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel is back on the charge for the Paris Games after unexpectedly stepping away from competitive swimming in 2022. Dressel was competing — and competing well — at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest when he suddenly withdrew from the meet due to an undisclosed health issue.

Dressel took a hiatus from the sport and remained out of competition for eight months, focusing on his mental and physical health. He finally returned in June of 2023 at the U.S. National Championships, where his performance reflected the extended absence from training. He did not qualify for 2023 Worlds, then opted out of February's 2024 Worlds (as did many other top swimmers, choosing instead to focus on training for Paris).

It remains to be seen if Dressel can return close to his Tokyo form in time to qualify for Paris. He will be among the most interesting athletes to watch at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, streaming live on Peacock June 15-23.

Next generation of female stars emerges

A trio of superstar teenagers has taken the women's swimming stage by storm since the Tokyo Olympics. Canada's Summer McIntosh, Australia's Mollie O'Callaghan, and Claire Curzan of the United States are all primed to contend for huge showings in Paris.

McIntosh, 17, continues to emerge as perhaps the most versatile swimmer since Michael Phelps. She is among the five fastest women in history in six individual events, the current world record holder in the 400 IM and the former world record holder in the 400m freestyle. In February, she also became the first person in 13 years to beat Katie Ledecky in the 800m freestyle. It's unclear exactly how many events McIntosh will enter in Paris, though she will be a heavy medal favorite in whichever ones she does.

O'Callaghan, 19, is the latest freestyle speedster to emerge from Down Under. She collected eight gold medals combined at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships, going back-to-back in the 100m free and setting the 200m free world record last summer. She trains under the instruction of polarizing coach Dean Boxall, the firebrand who helped elevate Ariarne Titmus into one of the world's most decorated swimmers.

Finally, while other top names opted to forgo the uniquely-timed 2024 World Championships in February, Curzan, 19, used the platform to make a statement. Curzan owned the backstroke events, winning gold in all three distances (the 50m backstroke is not contested at the Olympics) as well as a gold medal with the American mixed medley relay. The North Carolina native will face a stacked field of contenders in Paris, but should have momentum on her side after a historic performance in Doha.

Marchand primed to electrify home crowd

The Paris Olympics have come at the perfect time for Leon Marchand, the 21-year-old phenom from Toulouse, France. Marchand has owned the men's individual medley events over the past three years, winning back-to-back gold medals in both the 200m and 400m IM at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships.

However, he made his biggest splash in the 400m IM at 2023 Worlds, beating the last remaining world record set by Michael Phelps as Phelps watched on from the commentary area. The moment was not lost on Marchand, who looked up to Phelps as a young swimmer and eventually chose to train under Bob Bowman, Phelps' former coach, at Arizona State University.

Marchand is far and away France's biggest star in the pool. But if things go his way in Paris, he might very well be the face of the entire Games for the host nation.

Ledeckey goes coast-to-coast

Katie Ledecky, the greatest women's distance swimmer of all time and a native of the D.C. area, is back on the east coast after spending four years at Stanford University in Northern California.

Ledecky made the switch following the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, opting to move her training base to Gainesville, Florida. She now works under the guidance of Florida Gators swim coach Anthony Nesty, alongside fellow distance specialist and Olympic gold medalist Bobby Finke. In 2023, Nesty was chosen as the head coach of the United States' 2024 Olympic team.