Team GB men strike Olympic gold in pool again with stunning relay win
If you picture the greatest sights you have been lucky enough to see in your life, they almost certainly did not look as sweet as the view down lane four of the Olympic pool at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre did to Tom Dean, James Guy, and Matthew Richards as Duncan Scott came down the stretch on Wednesday afternoon. Scott had a body-length lead after the turn for the final 100m of 4x200m freestyle relay final, and was pulling further away from the field. “As soon as Duncan had 100m to go I was thinking: ‘Game over, he’s not letting anyone go past him,’” Guy said. “He’s Duncan Scott, he never does.”
Not that Guy could see too much of it, exactly, because he was already in floods of tears, overcome, for those final few seconds, by the knowledge that he was about to be an Olympic champion.
When Scott touched the wall, Great Britain were three seconds ahead of the team in second, from the Russian Olympic Committee. Their winning time, 6min 58.58sec, was a British record, a European record, the third fastest in history, and only three-hundredths off the world record set by Michael Phelps’s US team at the world championships in 2009. It was one of the great swims in British Olympic history, and won them their first gold medal in the event since 1908. It also felt like a resounding confirmation that this is a new era of British swimming, run by a very different sort of squad.
They have already won three gold medals this week, as many as Britain did in the entirety of the past seven Olympic Games. They also snapped one of the longer winning streaks in Olympic swimming. It was the first time anyone has beaten the USA in this event since Sydney 2000 (and, no coincidence, it’s also the first time Phelps and Ryan Lochte haven’t been on the US team since those same Games). Richards, who is only 18, was not even born the last time the US lost the 4x200m. He had only ever seen Phelps and his teammates win it, until, as he looked down at Scott swimming those last 50m, he realised he was about to do it himself.
The win also made Dean the first British man to win two swimming medals at the same Olympics since 1908 too (but not the first British Olympian – Becky Adlington did it in 2008). He had taken a year off from his engineering degree to get ready to compete here, and was planning to start it up again in September, but as he said himself as he looked down at his gold medal “that might change now”. Six months back, when he was suffering through Covid, he wasn’t even sure he would be able to compete at the Games. Now, in the space of 24 hours, he has become a two-time Olympic champion. Life moves pretty fast when you can swim the 200m in 1min 44.2sec.
Dean’s lead-off leg here was not actually that quick. He covered his 200m in 1min 45.72sec, which left the team in second place, behind the USA. But Guy, who finished fourth in the individual event in Rio in 2016, put them in the lead, Richards kept them there, and then Scott put the cherry on top by covering the last leg in 1min 43.45sec. It was the fifth-fastest relay split in history. Dean couldn’t believe it when he first heard Scott’s time. “No way!” he said. “He’s joined the 1.43 club, baby,” added Guy, who is a member of it himself.
Dean at least had a pretty good reason for being a little off the pace. “The last 24 hours have been unreal, a complete whirlwind,” he said. “This was my fifth swim of the week, and it was starting to feel like it was taking its toll a little bit, especially with everything that went on yesterday.” Which puts what Scott is trying to do here in Tokyo into some perspective. He is already so busy that he has been skipping most of the team’s victory press conferences, and he still has three more events to go, the individual medley, and the two medley relays. He already has one Olympic gold and three silvers. The way this week is going, you can be sure he is not finished yet. He is an extraordinary competitor.
So are the rest of them. Whether it’s Adam Peaty’s influence, or Scott’s, there is a ruthless confidence about this swimming squad that makes for a stark contrast with the way Great Britain have handled themselves at other Games, when it sometimes seemed, as Dean said “like people were happy just to be there”. You could hear it in his unequivocal belief that they would go on to break that 4x200m world record “sooner rather than later” because he was “sure they had more to come” and that he expected them to win this race again in Paris in 2024. That last remark looked like it went down really well with the four Australian bronze medalists sitting to his right in the press conference.