Tokyo Flashback: From COVID-19 to Gold, Tom Dean Celebrates Historic Effort For Great Britain in 200 Freestyle (Updated)

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tom Dean (GBR) celebrates after winning the men's 200m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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Tokyo Flashback: From COVID-19 to Gold, Tom Dean Celebrates Historic Effort For Great Britain in 200 Freestyle

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

Much of the hype surrounding the final of the men’s 200-meter freestyle at the Olympic Games centered on the presence of a pair of rising teenage stars. While Romanian 16-year-old David Popovici and South Korean 18-year-old Sunwoo Hwang were podium contenders, the attention should have been on another duo.

Rallying down the last lap to overtake Hwang, Great Britain’s Tom Dean and Duncan Scott captured gold and silver at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, with Brazilian Fernando Scheffer the bronze medalist. In third place entering the final lap, Dean surged to the front off the wall and fended off his countryman to prevail in 1:44.22. Scott, who was fourth at the 150-meter point, checked in at 1:44.26, with Scheffer going 1:44.66 to make the podium by .02 over Popovici.

More than a year ago, while appearing on the Inside With Brett Hawke podcast, Australian legend Ian Thorpe said he thought the 200 freestyle had stagnated due to athletes’ unwillingness to attack the event from the start. Thorpe told Hawke, his former Olympic teammate, that it was necessary to push the pace from the outset and place trust in the training logged once pain set in down the stretch.

Hwang, the junior world-record holder, took Thorpe’s advice to heart. The youngster blasted off the blocks to immediately take the lead and turned at the midway point with a sizable advantage. But a ludicrous outgoing split of 49.78 caught up with Hwang, who faded badly over the last 50 meters and finished seventh.

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tom Dean (GBR) and Duncan Scott (GBR) celebrate after placing first and second in the men's 200m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

For Dean and Scott, they were more measured in their approaches, specifically Dean. Putting together the most-balanced race of the eight finalists, Dean was second at the 50-meter mark and sat in third at the second and third turns. It was a patient effort, and one without panic or overexuberance. Simply, Dean did what he needed over the first 150 meters and banked on being able to finish strong enough to deter the closers.

In the case of Scott, he was off the front-running pace through the first half of the race, as he sat sixth at the first two turns. Over the third lap, Scott moved into fourth and behind a closing split of 26.46, he overhauled Scheffer and nearly caught Dean.

It’s been a long haul for Dean, who twice tested positive for COVID-19, his second illness hitting him harder than the first. Because he was out of the water while sick, Dean had to rebuild his endurance and account for lost time.

“Sitting in my flat in isolation, an Olympic gold was a million miles away,” Dean said of his second COVID bout. “The second time was much worse than the first. I was quite ill for about 10 days and I served the whole isolation period and it’s a slow build back up because of the nature of the sport we do and of the disease. You can’t just go straight back into full-on training so it required a few weeks … two or three months out of our Olympic Trials and I’m stuck inside unable to even exercise. It was tough to wrap my head around that in an Olympic year.”

Missing from the field was defending champion Sun Yang of China, who is serving a four-year ban for an altercation with doping officials during an out-of-competition test in 2018. Sun was originally handed an eight-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but Sun appealed that decision, with a retrial leading to the four-year penalty. If he was watching the final from China, Sun may have cringed seeing Scott earn silver, as the Brit was one of the men who spoke out against doping and Sun at the 2019 World Championships.

By going gold-silver in the 200 freestyle, Great Britain solidified its stance as the favorite for the Olympic title in the 800 freestyle relay. The Commonwealth will not only bring the top-two finishers in the 200 freestyle to the blocks, Matt Richards and James Guy have been sub-1:46 this year and add depth. Great Britain has not won gold in an Olympic relay since the 1908 Games, when it won the 800 freestyle relay.

“Just a massive credit to Tom Dean. That was unbelievable. Olympic champion,” Scott said. “He’s come along so far in the last 18 months. It’s a pleasure to watch. It’s great to be able to say he’s a good mate out of the pool. It’s great being able to compete against him as well.”

In terms of the 200 freestyle, the event remained static. Not since Frenchman Yannick Agnel in 2012, on the way to Olympic gold in 1:43.14, has anyone cracked the 1:44 barrier in the event. For that development to unfold, someone will have to find a way to attack the front half like Hwang, but also have the staying power over the final two laps.

In the battle for the bronze medal, Popovici narrowly ran out of room to place just behind Scheffer. Popovici produced a closing split of 26.71, compared with the 27.38 of Scheffer. The performance by the teen bodes well for the 100 freestyle, where Popovici has the No. 1 time in the world and is the junior world-record holder.

For Dean, his gold-medal moment was long a goal.

“To watch the flag go up and the anthem being played, it is the stuff of dreams,” Dean said. “I’ve been thinking about this since I was eight years old and today is the day.”

Men’s 200 Freestyle

World Record: Paul Biedermann, Germany, 1:42.00 (2009)
Olympic Record: Michael Phelps, United States, 1:42.96 (2008)

Final Results

1. Tom Dean (Great Britain) 1:44.22
2. Duncan Scott (Great Britain) 1:44.26
3. Fernando Scheffer (Brazil) 1:44.66
4. David Popovici (Romania) 1:44.68
5. Martin Malyutin (Russia) 1:45.01
6. Kieran Smith (United States) 1:45.12
7. Sunwoo Hwang (Korea) 1:45.26
8. Danys Rapsys (Lithuania) 1:45.78


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