Tokyo Olympics 2020: A ‘dog fight’ of a race reflects Duncan Scott as he is pipped for gold by 0.04 seconds
In the years ahead, who knows how Duncan Scott might reflect upon the 200 metres freestyle final of the Tokyo Olympics with the breathing space of time and the liberty of perspective.
With pride, assuredly. Satisfaction too. Few confess to childhood dreams of silver medals but they still float in rarefied air.
A mere four-hundredths seconds separated the 24-year-old from his British team-mate Tom Dean yesterday in a compelling stretch for the finish line that saw the Englishman capture a gold that seemed so improbable when Covid left him struggling for breath a mere six months ago.
For Scott, toil that began when he first rocked up at his local baths in Alloa at age seven and began a productive partnership with his coach Steve Tigg was all funnelled to this despite the previous of his two relay silvers from Rio 2016. For any athlete, the mantra is normally to deliver your best when it counts and see where the chips may fall.
He set his quickest-ever time of 1 min 44.22 secs yet Dean, wrestling away the British record, had four-hundredths more in reserve. Sixth at half-way but a man possessed thereafter, Scott’s immediate analysis was that he left a little, but enough, in the pool.
“I could done the second 50 a lot better, maybe built to the wall a bit better,” he ventured. “But there's so many different strategies in that 200m free which makes it quite an exciting spectacle as well. It was a dog fight. It came down to the finish. And Deano swam a great race so fair play to him.
"My plan was to attack the third 50. Coming to the turn, I popped up. I could see him but not very clearly in the split second you look up. He has big arms does Deano, so you probably have to be several metres in front to touch him out.”
The first Scot to earn a medal in Japan, he could not have been more gracious to his colleague. He and Dean have spent the past week playing cards and watching movies together in their shared apartment within the Athletes Village. Relay team-mates and firm friends, they will forever be bonded by their march to the podium in lockstep, the first 1-2 for the UK in Olympic water for 113 years.
'It was great to see him get emotional,” observed Scott, who will begin his other solo mission in the 200m individual medley today. “For him, with what he's been through this year, it's special. I don't know if I've shared the podium before with a fellow competitor apart from at junior level. To do it on the biggest stage is really nice.”
Dean’s decision to go early and go hard reaped the ultimate reward. The 21-year-old provided his coach in Bath, Dave McNulty, with the seventh gold from his career. The prodigy-turned-champion adores the analytical side of his craft. The rawness too. “Put your body through the pain and results will come,” he said.
Not the results he had wished, when a positive for Covid arrived last September. It felt as well-timed as possible to allow him to recuperate adequately ahead of these Games. “And then it's comes back in January. I see this text saying you tested positive. Everything came crashing down a little bit. It was a bit scary.”
The only breathlessness yesterday came during the tense wait for the timings to flash on the scoreboard. When they came, he punched the pool with unrestrained glee. “It’s a dream come true to have an Olympic gold around my neck,” Dean said. “To go one-two with another Brit on the podium, what more could you ask for?”