Who said sequels are never a patch on the original? Over four laps of staggering intensity, the greatest two freestylers in British swimming history, Duncan Scott and Tom Dean, went at it stroke for stroke, eyeball to eyeball, over a humdinger of a Commonwealth Games 200m final. Just like they did at the Olympics last year. Only this time their battle was accompanied by a soundtrack of deafening screams – and came with a startling twist.
In Tokyo these two great friends – one hailing from Scotland, the other from England – slugged it out all the way to the line, with Dean winning by just 0.04 sec. In doing so they became the first British pair to finish on an Olympic swimming podium in more than 100 years in the 200m freestyle.
Most had expected history to repeat itself – especially given that last month Scott had been forced to pull out of the world championships in Budapest because he was struggling with high intensity efforts in training. Instead he judged his race perfectly, watching Dean for the first two laps before moving alongside him on the third and powering away in the final 50m.
“We both love it,” explained Scott, whose winning time was 1min 45.02sec, 0.39 ahead of his friend. “It’s a really positive thing. It’s a nice change being on different sides of the table this time. Scotland versus England. It’s always positive, we’ll rekindle the relationship as we get back to Team GB.”
That message was shared by Dean, who said: “We finished and he just said ‘One-two again’. We said the same at the trials and at the Olympics last year. One-two at an international competition again and we’re going to keep doing that and keep doing that.”
For good measure, Scott – who is Team GB’s most decorated swimmer in Olympic history – then won 400m individual medley bronze behind the New Zealander Lewis Clareburt later in the evening.
Watching on was Dean, who explained what made their friendship so special. “We do push each other on,” he said. “The bond we have is more important than our rivalry. We push each other on. I can’t seem to get away from him! Every time I race he’s there, whether it’s a small little home competition or the Olympic games, he’s always there. He’s annoying sometimes – but it’s only a good thing and I will always have good memories.”
The only swimming gold for England on the second day of competition came in the night’s opening race as Ben Proud powered away to win the 50m butterfly in a Games record 22.81, beating Singapore’s Tzen Wei Teong by 0.40 sec.
It was redemption for Proud, who won this event in Glasgow in 2014 before being disqualified at the Gold Coast in 2018 for a false start. “It is more than just another win,” said Proud. “It’s my career, it’s my legacy, it’s what I have dedicated my life to. It might just be another medal but for me it is very special. This is my redemption.”
There was also a silver medal for England’s Imogen Clark, who swam a lifetime best of 30.02 in the women’s 50m breaststroke in finishing behind South Africa’s Lara van Niekerk, who came home in 29.73.
What made Clark’s swim even more impressive was that she suffered a serious seizure when she was 14 and, having been diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy, was told by her doctor to give up her sport. “I have never experienced something like this before,” said Clark. “It was absolutely incredible.”
Overall there were one gold and six silvers for England on day two, including Hannah Russell in the women’s 50m S13 freestyle, Paul Williams in the 100m backstroke and the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays.
There is likely to be more golds for England on Sunday with the Olympic champion Adam Peaty qualifying fastest for 100m breastroke final.
Peaty has only been back swimming for four weeks after breaking his foot, but he qualified comfortably in 59.02 sec – 0.78 ahead of his nearest rival, Zac Stubblety-Cook, of Australia. “Not bad for four weeks’ training is it?” said Peaty. “I enjoyed that really a lot tonight. My times are obviously a little bit off. It has been a very difficult season so far, mentally and physically, mainly physically, but I am still getting results.”