In Focus

Pool party: golden ‘new era’ for British swimming

Team GB swimmers made a splash at the Tokyo Olympics 

It’s been a historic week for British swimmers at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Team GB closed out their best-ever Olympics with silver in the men’s 4x100m medley relay on Sunday and they finish the games with four gold medals and eight medals in all. That tops the previous best return from 1908, matching the four golds won in London, but topping the seven medals from those games.

Team GB’s first gold was secured on Monday by Adam Peaty, who defended his Olympic title in the men’s 100m breaststroke. On Tuesday Tom Dean and Duncan Scott secured a one-two in the 200m freestyle final then on Wednesday Dean, Scott, Matthew Richards and James Guy cruised to a stunning victory in the 4x200m freestyle relay. 

On Friday morning Luke Greenbank became the first British athlete to win a men’s 200m backstroke medal with a bronze and Scott continued his fine games with silver in the 200m individual medley. 

The success then continued in the weekend’s relays. On Saturday Team GB ensured their place in the history books as they won the inaugural mixed 4x100m medley relay at an Olympic Games with a memorable world record swim. The quartet of Kathleen Dawson, Peaty, Guy and Anna Hopkin delivered a dominant display to smash the world record by 0.83s in a time of 3:37.58, ahead of China and Australia.

Peaty, who joined compatriot Dean as the first male British swimmer to win double gold at a games since 1908, said: “We’re the champions, let’s go and enjoy it. We’ve got champions who believe we can win and who believe we can break world records. If you’ve got belief, you can build everything around that.”

Then in Sunday’s 4x100m medley relay Scott swam the final leg to help the team bring home the silver. The 24-year-old from Glasgow becomes the first athlete in any sport to ever win four medals at a single games for Team GB. His total Olympic medal haul is now seven, having also won three silvers at Rio 2016.

Adam Peaty 

Adam Peaty with his gold medal in Tokyo

Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

‘He is just an inspiration’

Peaty has completely dominated the 100m breaststroke - he is unbeaten over the distance since 2014 and now owns the 16 quickest times. After becoming the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title, it’s “not bad for someone once terrified of water in case a shark came up the plughole”, says the BBC’s Katie Falkingham. 

When he won gold on Monday Peaty hoped that his win would be a “catalyst” - not just for Team GB but “also the people back home to go to another gear”.  

Chris Spicer, Team GB’s performance director, praised Peaty for his impact and for leading the way among his fellow British swimmers. “You can see our youngsters watching how he [Peaty] trains,” Spicer said. “He is just an inspiration - a leader in more ways than just swimming fast in the pool.”

Swimmers Duncan Scott and Tom Dean with their 200m freestyle medals

Duncan Scott and Tom Dean with their 200m freestyle medals

Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

Epic battle between two mates

One of the highlights so far for Team GB in Tokyo came in the men’s 200m freestyle final on Tuesday. Almost exactly 24 hours after Peaty’s 100m breaststroke masterclass, Dean and Scott delivered Britain’s first swimming one-two for 113 years. 

It was an “epic battle” between the Britons, says The Guardian’s Sean Ingle. And it was 21-year-old Dean who narrowly pipped his compatriot by just 0.04 seconds at the wall.

Dean, who came back from two bouts of Covid-19 to win gold, is roommates with Scott at the Olympic Village. “Duncan and I are great mates,” he said. “He’s an absolute class act and I’ve looked up to him for a long time. To share a podium with him is amazing.”

Duncan Scott swam a brilliant final leg in the 4x200m freestyle relay

Duncan Scott swam a brilliant final leg in the 4x200m freestyle relay

Francois-Xavier Marit/AFP via Getty Images

‘Swimming lessons for all’

Dean and Scott added to Team GB’s gold medal haul on Wednesday morning alongside Matthew Richards and James Guy in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay. 

For Dean he became the first British male to win double Olympic swimming gold in 113 years while Scott, 24, finally won a gold after three previous silvers, two in Rio and one in Tokyo. It was also the first Olympic gold for 25-year-old Guy and 18-year-old Richards. Guy, who put Britain into pole position with his strong second leg, shed tears as Scott brought the team home. “After 25 years to do it, finally, it’s very emotional. It’s a dream come true,” he told the BBC

It was one of the “great swims in British Olympic history”, says The Guardian’s Andy Bull. “It also felt like a resounding confirmation that this is a new era of British swimming.”

Peaty and Dean’s Olympic legacy should be “swimming lessons for all”, The Yorkshire Post said in an editorial. “As Team GB’s more ruthless approach to competition and selection sees the nation become a powerhouse of global swimming, it is hoped that these gold medals can be the springboard for societal change.”

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