Team GB smash world record to win Tokyo 4x100m mixed medley relay gold
Another day and, incredible to say, another gold for Great Britain in the Olympic swimming pool. This one in the mixed 4x100m relay, which the quartet of Kathleen Dawson, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Anna Hopkin won in a world record time of 3min 37.58sec.
It was Britain’s fourth swimming gold medal of the week, which is as many as the team won at the Olympics between 1988 and 2016, and their seventh swimming medal here. The last time a Games went this well the men were wearing wool bodysuits and waxed moustaches, and the women were not allowed to compete. If they win one more medal on Sunday, it will be their most successful swimming Games.
It was the first time this mixed relay has featured on the Olympic programme and the novelty made for an array of different approaches as the teams tried to figure out the best strategy. The US, who looked the strongest team, were the only ones who put a man, Caeleb Dressel, on the final freestyle leg.
It was asking a lot of him, given he had already won the 100m butterfly final in a world record time, as well as a 50m freestyle semi-final, in the session. “GB, that was insane,” he said.
China, who came second, and bronze medallists Australia also picked swimmers who had been in action. The British had an advantage because their swimmers were relatively fresh. It wasn’t an accident. Guy had been due to compete in the 100m butterfly alongside Dressel but pulled out to concentrate on the relay. The decision paid off, because he turned in a split of 50sec dead, which put the team in first place, but it came at the cost of a shot at winning his first individual medal. If he had been able to replicate that kind of time from a standing start in the individual final, he would have won bronze.
“It did hurt pulling out from the butterfly,” he said, “but I made the compromise and I got a gold medal and a world record, so I’ll take that.”
His sacrifice gave the team an edge their closest rivals did not have. It also vindicated the decision to leave out Duncan Scott, despite his red-hot form. “I’ve been racing with Jimmy for 10 years,” Peaty said. “One of our biggest strengths is that we’ve got heritage, and brotherhood, that no other team has.”
Peaty swam a barnstorming breaststroke leg, in 56.78sec. He swept past the US’s 17-year-old 100m champion, Lydia Jacoby, who ploughed on even though her goggles had come off.
It meant that by the time Hopkin hit the water for the freestyle closer, she had a half-second lead over China. Hopkin, who trains with Peaty under coach Mel Marshall, swam brilliantly and finished in 52sec. “These guys got me such a great lead, I knew I could stay ahead of the girls,” she said.
That still left Dressel, the greatest sprint swimmer in the world, who was starting from eighth place, six seconds back. “I knew he was coming at me,” Hopkin said, “but there’s just so much going on there’s no point looking at anyone else, I just knew I was not going to lose that lead.”
And now, she added: “It’s pretty cool to say I beat Caeleb Dressel.”
It was Peaty’s 14th world record, his fourth Olympic medal and his third gold. If you are looking for reasons why fortunes have changed so much in the past few years, Dawson, who swam the opening backstroke leg, and Hopkin said you should start with him and the example he sets for the rest of the team.
Not that Peaty was going to claim any credit for it. “British swimming has completely flipped, it’s incredible, and it’s down to people back home finding the 1% improvements,” he said. “There’s a whole orchestra of people I want to thank.”
He mentioned his support team, who had stayed up all night to make sure Peaty had the data he needed when he woke up in the morning.
“I hope this team and the rest of British swimming get the respect they deserve, because it’s been hard. People don’t understand how hard it is, hopefully they do now,” he said. “People don’t know how hard it is to get to this point, I’ve been doing this since 2014, seven years, and I didn’t think the team would be where they are today.
“Hopefully, for all those kids back home who haven’t had access to pools [during lockdown], this gives them the kickstart they need, because there’s no point doing any of this if we’re not inspiring people.
“That’s what the Olympics are about, right, to do better and to chase dreams.”