Duncan Scott, Stephen Milne and Dan Wallace became the first Scottish medallists at these Games as they joined forces with James Guy to claim 4x200m freestyle silver in a British record.
Only Michael Phelps’s dominant Americans bettered them, Phelps winning his 21st Olympic title in the process to further cement his name in sporting immortality.
Hopes were high for Britain’s relay team after their gold medal at last year’s World Championships in Kazan, but, after a few medal near-misses in sports around Rio, there were worries too.
They’d been among the most impressive qualifiers for the final – Robbie Renwick making it an all-Scottish quartet, only to be replace by Guy in the medal race.
“That’s an unreal feeling being up on the podium alongside Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, that’s what dreams are made of,” said Scott. “We knew it was going to be tough. We had to step things up and we did. I’m just really happy with my swimming and to have an Olympic medal means the world. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Confidence was high after their performance at last year’s worlds and Tuesday afternoon’s heats.
But standards always improve in an Olympic year, which is why team officials – who had long targeted this event – were exchanging nervous looks before the start, though anxiety may have been settled by Siobhan-Marie O’Connor’s 200m medley silver for Britain just a few minutes before.
Milne, who will go again the 1500m freestyle, put them in contention on the lead-off leg before solid swims from Scott – who also made the 100m freestyle final on a busy night for the 19-year-old – and Wallace established them in the medal positions. But it took a storming anchor leg from Guy to overhaul Japan and snatch the second spot on the podium, Phelps and his quartet always being in a faraway class of their own.
“It’s an honour to swim with these guys and it’s an honour to swim in that race, against such legends as Phelps and Lochte,” added Milne.
Wallace claimed he was lucky to make the team and paid tribute to the absent Renwick and the impressive Guy, the 200m freestyle world champion who admitted to being off the pace in his individual event, only to make amends when it mattered.
“I was lucky to make the team and knew I had to step it up and reward their faith in me,” he said.
“We’re a young team too, so hopefully this is just the start.”
Guy, just 20, should be the lynchpin of success in this event for years to come , while his team-mates are aged just 22, 19 and 23.
Phelps and Ryan Lochte, 31 and 32 respectively, are nearing the end of their storied careers, but this team are only just starting.
“We knew before the race that if we kept our head then a medal was there,” said Guy. “I think we can beat Team USA – we are a young and up- and-coming team. Anything can happen in four years but I reckon we will have a good shot. In Tokyo we will be fully grown men – hunting for that gold and at our peaks.”
Meanwhile, Craig Benson was at a loss to explain his performance after failing to progress to the 200m breaststroke final.
Team-mate Andrew Willis was the second quickest qualifier but Benson’s semi-final time of 2:10.93 ranked him only 13th. “I’m really disappointed with that time,” he said.
“My best would have given me a big shot of making the final, even if that would have been a personal best. I’ll do a review and see what happened.”
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