Duncan Scott had not yet reached the turn, but at the other end his teammates were already celebrating. The newly crowned 200m freestyle champion Tom Dean embraced the nerveless 18-year-old Matt Richards, as James Guy tensed like the Hulk and let out a roar. The three of them had built a healthy lead and “there was no way Duncan was going to let anyone past,” Guy said.
Once Scott touched the wall, Guy let the tears flow. For so long the 4x200m freestyle has been under the ownership of USA: just the presence of Michael Phelps on the start block was enough to make racing them feel redundant. Guy won silver in Phelps’s wake five years ago in Rio, but this was clear, emphatic gold. “Being a young lad and dreaming of Olympic gold, all I’ve ever wanted in my life was to get that. Now I’ve done it.”
The ROC (Russia, basically) were delighted to win silver and Australia took bronze. The US started fast but faded and didn’t even medal. It is Britain who owns the talented new generation, a point underlined by Dean and Scott who won gold and silver in the 200m individual event. The team produced a dominant display in qualifying and they went better here, clocking in at 6min 58.58sec, only 0.03 shy of the world record.
Perhaps understandably still feeling the effects of a “whirlwind” 24 hours since becoming an Olympic champion, Dean posted the slowest time of the four in the first leg and didn’t hand over in the lead – America’s Kieran Smith went out ferociously and put the US in pole position at the first change. But Guy reeled in the American team and then the teenage Richards produced a brilliant performance on his Games debut, overtaking and accelerating into the distance. He dived into his first Olympic pool in second place and climbed out with a full body-length lead.
“When you’re racing with guys like this, having a great leg comes easy,” Richards said. “When they set you up as well as they did and you’ve got literally one of the best freestylers in the world and one of the best freestylers ever going behind you, (it’s a) privilege. And the confidence that gives someone, and the experience, money can’t buy it.”
As Scott bolted into the water they knew it was over. He had missed out on individual gold to his roommate Dean by a fingernail and, although he was happy for his friend, it still stung. He wasn’t letting this one go. He swam a ferocious 1:43.45, the quickest 200m of the race, to seal Britain’s third swimming gold in Tokyo.
“It’s really special with these boys,” Scott said. “Matt in third was so composed and the boys up front executed their race plans really well. So close to a world record in the end, if anything I’m a bit gutted!”
Dean becomes the first male British swimmer to win more than one gold medal at a single Olympics in 113 years. “I can’t even put it into words. I couldn’t yesterday and I can’t today. I can’t thank these boys enough, from the bottom of my heart. Unreal.”
One of the most touching moments of the Games so far was the viral video of Dean’s family and friends in Maidenhead watching his individual final, racked with an uncontainable tension that every sports can fan can relate to, finally exploding into screw-loose euphoria when he won gold. Dean revealed he had no idea about the gathering, or the video, until much later when teammate Ross Murdoch showed him the clip.
“Ross goes, ‘Have you seen this video that's all going round Twitter about your family?’ I haven't looked at any social media so I said, ‘What are you on about?’ He said, ‘I've been balling my eyes out’. I had a look and there's like 70 people, they're going nuts, someone sets a flare off. I thought ‘What is going on here?!’ I saw all my family, all my friends, it set me off again. It was amazing.”
As the quartet hung medals on each other’s necks in this new Covid-friendly tradition, which has a touching quality in a relay event like this one, the lasting impression looking at the podium was that this is by no means the end of the story. Guy is “one of the old guys”, Richards joked, but he is only 25 and has at least another Games in him yet. Scott is 24, Dean 21 and Richards still only 18. The look in his eye and the assuredness in his voice left no doubt that he wanted more.
“It's an honour to have this medal hanging around my neck and forever now this will be something that I can say, I was part of,” Richards said. “But for me, I've got some big goals, I've got a lot of things that I want to achieve in my swimming career and as far as I'm concerned, this is just the very beginning. This team of lads has got so much potential. The youngsters that are coming up through British swimming at the moment are so exciting. It's phenomenal.”
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