New Olympic champion Tom Dean was worried he wouldn’t even make it to Tokyo

Tom Dean admitted winning Olympic gold seemed a “million miles off” when he contracted coronavirus for a second time at the start of this year.

Dean produced the performance of his life in the final of the men’s 200 metres freestyle, clocking a national record time of one minute and 44.22 seconds to pip Tokyo 2020 flatmate Duncan Scott in a historic one-two for Team GB.

But there were moments where he wondered whether he would even make the plane to Japan. Having had a mild bout of coronavirus last September, Dean revealed there was scrutiny on him after he tested positive again in January.

His symptoms were much more severe then, telling the BBC prior to the Games that he could not walk up the stairs “without coughing and wheezing”, but he credited his coach David McNulty for lifting him when he was at his lowest.

“I had six or seven weeks out during an Olympic year which is essentially unheard of,” said the 21-year-old Dean, who became the first British man to win an Olympic freestyle title in 113 years.

“When I was sitting in my flat in isolation, Olympic gold seemed like a million miles off. But here we are.

“I had a few pretty frank conversations with staff at the Bath National Centre (where he trains), speaking about previous swimmers who had come back from injuries, but this was slightly different because it wasn’t so clear cut.

Dean, right, and Scott, left, are the first British male swimmers to share a podium since the 1908 London Games (Adam Davy/PA)
Dean, right, and Scott, left, are the first British male swimmers to share a podium since the 1908 London Games (Adam Davy/PA)

“I think 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.

“I’m thinking ‘how am I going to be able to recover from this in time to get a solid block of work under my belt before we start tapering for Olympic trials?’

“I had to post some pretty quick times in the 200 free because of how stacked it is within Great Britain. There were a few question marks around but my coach kept me grounded and just built me slowly back up to where I am now.

“It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true to wear Olympic gold around my neck.”

Dean and Scott were third and sixth respectively at the halfway stage of Tuesday morning’s race before going up a gear in a thrilling contest. Dean edged out Scott by a wafer-thin 0.04 secs, with Brazil’s Fernando Scheffer third.

Gold for Dean and silver for Scott, who was heavily fancied after qualifying quickest in the semi-finals the day before, was the first time since the 1908 Games that two male British swimmers have finished on the podium together.

“Duncan and I are great mates,” added Dean, who acknowledged his plan to resume his mechanical engineering degree at Bath University this year may have changed after Team GB’s second swimming gold of these Games, after Adam Peaty on Monday.

“Duncan’s an absolute class act. I’ve looked up to him for a long time. To share a pool and a podium with him is amazing. Going one-two with another Brit on the podium. What more could you ask for, really?”

Not since Henry Taylor and Thomas Battersby in the 1500m freestyle, and Frederick Holman and William Robinson in the 200m breaststroke, in London more than a century ago have two British men been in the top-three in a swimming event.

After collecting Scotland’s first medal of these Games, Scott said of his GB team-mate: “I’m buzzing for Deano, he’s had a really strange 18 months with Covid twice and a monster PB at trials but to see him move it on again and win gold is phenomenal.

“Our best possible outcome is one-two and we delivered on that, and I got a PB in the final as well so I’m really happy, can’t complain at all.”

The 24-year-old Glaswegian won two silvers at Rio 2016 and has claimed golds at world, European and Commonwealth level, but he acknowledged this runner-up finish in the Japanese capital was the high point of his singles career.

Kathleen Dawson missed out on a medal in the women's 100m backstroke (Joe Giddens/PA)
Kathleen Dawson missed out on a medal in the women’s 100m backstroke (Joe Giddens/PA)

“It’s probably the biggest medal of my individual career, yeah,” he added. “I’ve won Commonwealth and European but I wouldn’t say that’s matched by an Olympic medal, the pinnacle of our sport, so yeah I’m delighted.”

Both Dean and Scott have little time to revel in their achievements as they are expected to compete in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay heats on Tuesday.

Kathleen Dawson missed out on a medal in the women’s 100m backstroke following a sixth-place finish 1.23s adrift of winner Kaylee McKeown, with the Australian’s time of 57.47 an Olympic record.

Abbie Wood and Alicia Wilson sealed their places in the women’s 200m individual medley final but Freya Anderson finished outside the qualifying places for the women’s 200m freestyle.