This time, Duncan Scott had no problem sharing a stage with the winner of the gold medal. In fact, there was no one he would rather have stood next to on the podium than his room-mate and close friend, Tom Dean.
It was at the 2019 World Championships in South Korea where Scott caused a stir by refusing to join Chinese drug cheat Sun Yang on the platform after claiming the bronze medal behind him, leading to an ugly exchange. Two years on and in the same 200metres freestyle event, there could not have been more love by the side of the pool, as two Brits shared hugs, handshakes and history.
Not since Henry Taylor and Thomas Battersby in 1908 — when the competition took place in an outdoor pool on an athletics field — had there been a British one-two in Olympic swimming. But four monarchs, 20 prime ministers and 113 years later, Dean and Scott wrote their name into the record books in Tokyo, continuing the gold rush started by Adam Peaty, who was watching from the stands.
Tom Dean (R) and Duncan Scott (L) secured an historic one-two for Team GB in 200m freestyle
Dean, who took gold, embraces Scott following the pair’s remarkable triumph in Tokyo
Dean, 21, touched the wall in a British record time of 1min 44.22sec, just four hundredths of a second ahead of Scott, 24, and turning the tables on the team-mate who had beaten him by 0.11sec at the national trials in April.
Such are the fine margins between the pair, this could be a rivalry for the ages, one which becomes swimming’s answer to the tussles between British distance runners Seb Coe and Steve Ovett in the early 1980s.
Yet it said everything about their bromance off the blocks that Scott’s first thought when he hauled himself out of the water to speak to television was to pay tribute to ‘Deano’.
‘He has come so far in the last 18 months and it is a pleasure to watch,’ said the magnanimous Scott, who was the marginal favourite coming into the final and adds a silver to the two he won in relays at Rio 2016.
‘We’re in an apartment together and we get on really well. We’re mates outside of the pool first and then we’re competitors as well. I don’t think I’ve shared the podium before with a fellow team-mate, so to do it with him was special. Our best possible outcome is one-two and we delivered on that.’
New champion Dean said: ‘Duncan and I are great mates — he’s a class act. I have looked up to him for a long time. To share a podium with him is amazing.
‘It’s a dream come true to have an Olympic gold around my neck and to go one-two with another Brit on the podium, what more could you ask for?’
The pair have become great mates, and will cherish their momentous achievement forever
The scale of Dean’s achievement can be highlighted by the fact he is just the second British man after Peaty to have won an Olympic title in 33 years, as well as being the first male freestyler to win gold for Team GB since Taylor in 1908.
And that he has joined the stellar list of Olympic champions in the 200m freestyle, which includes all-time greats Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, is all the more remarkable when you consider what he has come through.
As recently as January, the 6ft 4in swimmer contracted a ‘severe’ bout of Covid — the second time he had tested positive in four months — and could not walk up the stairs without ‘coughing and wheezing’. He was ‘frightened’ about the long-term damage the virus was doing to his lungs, not to mention how he would recover in time to get to his first Games.
‘I was one of the first athletes in any British Olympic sport to contract Covid twice in such a short space of time, so there were quite a few question marks around it,’ Dean admitted. ‘When I was sitting in my flat during Olympic year, an Olympic gold seemed a million miles off.’
Casual observers may have thought the same about Dean’s gold medal chances regardless of Covid, given he was not even selected for the 200m freestyle at the World Championships two years ago. But his huge personal best at April’s trials, followed by a bronze behind Scott at the Europeans in May, suggested he was a medal contender here in Tokyo. That he was able to land the big one, though, climbing up from third on the last length, still came as something of a shock.
Dean touched the wall four hundredths of a second ahead of Scott on Tuesday in Tokyo
And it was as popular a victory at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, where his relay team-mate James Guy wept in the stands, as it was in Maidenhead, where a large group of his friends and family gathered in his mum’s garden and wildly celebrated his win before three in the morning.
‘It’s the single greatest achievement of my life,’ said Dean, who cried as he sang the national anthem behind his mask.
‘I was slightly emotional because I couldn’t look up in the stands and see my family and friends and my girlfriend.
‘That was what made it tough, but I know they were watching at home. I’ve been thinking about this since I started swimming when I was eight years old.
‘I was on holiday during the Beijing Olympics and I remember watching Phelps just absolutely clean up. In 2012, I was lucky enough to watch a race. And here I am in Tokyo — I’ve won the 200 freestyle!’
Dean had been studying for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath before deferring his second year to focus on his Olympic ambitions.
Asked when he might now return to his studies, he held the golden gong around his neck and grinned: ‘I think this kind of changes my plans slightly.’
Dean sent friends and family back home into a frenzy after claiming Olympic gold medal