Kirkcaldy-born and Warrington-raised, the 23-year-old is the second Scot to win relay swimming gold at the Tokyo Games after Duncan Scott’s heroics earlier in the week.
She opened the backstroke leg in the 4x100m mixed medley, with Team GB storming to victory in a world record time.
Dawson, who trains at University of Stirling and lives in the town, suffered a serious knee injury in 2018 and missed the Rio Olympics that year. She also missed out on a podium place in the 100m individual backstroke earlier this week but is now an Olympic champion along with relay teammates Adam Peaty, Jimmy Guy and Anna Hopkin.
She is the first Scottish female swimmer to take home Olympic gold since Glasgow’s Belle Moore helped Team GB’s women win the 4×100m freestyle relay at the 1912 Stockholm Games. Scotland's last female Olympic swimming medal of any description came in 1952 when Helen Gordon took bronze in the 200m breaststroke.
“It’s more than I could ever have hoped for,” said Dawson, a backstroke specialist. “If you’d have told me back at the end of 2018, when I had my knee injury, that I’d be Olympic champion at the end of a delayed Olympics, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
University of Stirling head performance swim coach Steven Tigg, one of the Team GB coaches, said: “When I spoke to Kathleen after the race, she was still in a bit of shock – but being an Olympic champion and world record-breaker does that.
“After her anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2018, this achievement may have seemed impossible. But the support in place within the programme, along with her determination, has culminated in her dream becoming a reality.”
Dawson slipped off the wall at the start before fighting back with a strong swim. After speaking to her parents at home, she said: “It was 5am back there and they were already on the champagne – it was great to see!”
She added: “It’s unbelievable what we’ve done. I couldn’t have imagined it in my wildest dreams, honestly.”
It was the second team gold for Great Britain in the early hours of yesterday after Jess Learmonth, Jonny Brownlee, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee secured first place in the mixed triathlon relay.
As for the other Scots, there was more disappointment for Edinburgh shooter Seonaid McIntosh, who missed out on a place in the final of the 50m rifle competition. The 25-year-old went into the event as world number one but finished 14th.
However, Ayrshire’s Jemma Reekie stormed into Tuesday’s 800m athletics final and sailor Charlotte Dobson, from Rhu in Argyll and Bute, qualified with partner Saskia Tidey for the medal race of the women’s skiff 49er FX.