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 hugged the nerveless 18-year-old Matt Richards, as James Guy threw both arms in the air and let out a roar. “Duncan just wasn’t letting anyone past him,” Guy would later explain.
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 against them feel redundant. Guy won silver in Phelps’ 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. The team produced a dominant display in qualifying and they went better here, clocking in at 6 min 58.58 sec, 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 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 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 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.”