Matthew Richards only turned 18 last December and so, when the spectre of pressure and Simone Biles’ shock withdrawal was raised, it was striking that he should speak up first among the triumphant 4x200m freestyle relay team.
“I was thinking about this before the race last night,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure. It was [only] the second time ever I have raced the 4x200m freestyle. To do it that in the Olympic Games, when we are going in favourites by over two seconds, is terrifying.”
WIth no friends and family in Tokyo, Richards evidently had the perfect team-mate in James Guy to help him rationalise what lay ahead. Guy had won two Olympic silvers five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, at the age only of 20, and relayed a simple piece of advice.
“One thing Jimmy said was just to go out and enjoy it,” said Richards. “That’s why we get up early every morning and why we work hard and come here. Because we love it. The pressure is there but, as long as you enjoy what you are doing, it’s part of what we do.”
Richards duly raced like a swimmer who was in Tokyo simply to have the time of his life, powering away on the third leg after Guy had first established Team GB’s lead to set up Duncan Scott for a hat-trick of Team GB swimming golds.
Richards was not even born the last time that the United States had been beaten in the 200m freestyle but, rather like Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke on Monday, the men’s freestylers were so dominant that onlookers found themselves looking for their time before even the position.
The clock stopped at 6 min 58.58 sec - a new national and European record, and more than three seconds ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee in silver, but an agonisingly 0.03 sec outside the world record.
That was set by the United States back in 2009 by a team that contained Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in a style of swimming suit, which was designed to minimise drag through the water, that is now banned.
Factor in the respective ages of the British team - 21, 18, 25, 24 - as well as the fact that Dean, the winner of the men’s 200m freestyle, was more than one second outside his personal best following his individual exertions, and it feels reasonable to assume that this world record should soon fall their way.
“There is definitely more to come - I think the world record will hopefully be ours sooner rather than later,” said Dean, who had also become the first British male swimmer since Henry Taylor in 1908 to win two Olympic golds.
Dean also emphasised how the path to this Olympic gold, which had followed silver in the same event in Rio and then World Championship gold, had actually been a long time coming.
“I know it looks like we have burst onto the scene and won the Olympics, but this has been years in the making - the last few years we have been getting stronger and stronger, more and more depth,” said Dean.
The truth on Wednesday morning was that it was Dean team-mates - Guy, Richards and the phenomenal Duncan Scott - who made the most difference. Dean had actually passed over in third following the first leg but, knowing that this was their one opportunity, both Guy and Richards excelled in the middle of the race.
There would later also be a fifth gold for Calum Jarvis, who performed an important service in helping Team GB to the final and allowing Scott to rest up when the semi-finals took place. It certainly then showed in his swim.
Scott now has a gold and silver at these Games but still also has the 200m individual medley and then the men’s 4x 100m medley relay to come. He could yet easily end these Games with the unprecedented British achievement of four medals at the same Olympics,
Dean had simply responded with the words “no way” when told that Scott’s split was 1 min 43.45 sec. It was the fifth fastest in history and, even after beating him by 0.04 the previous day, said that he looked up to his team-mate.
If all goes to plan, Scott will have raced nine times in Tokyo by Sunday morning. His wider team are also increasingly likely to depart as the most successful group of Olympic swimmers that the country has ever seen.
With Peaty going for two more golds in the relays, the swimmers could also yet overhaul the greatest performance by the British team, achieved way back in 1908 in a 100m outdoor swimming pool that had been specially constructed at the White Stadium.
The star of that particular team was Taylor, a cotton mill worker who trained in a canal and swam in a swimsuit made of hand-woven silk. He won three-quarters of Team GB’s four golds.
Peaty had spoken after his second breaststroke gold of wanting to be a “catalyst” and, having been in the stands cheering on his team-mates to further gold, his influence was praised. “It's almost a given he will dominate - it just lifts us up - we are a force to be reckoned with,” said Dean.
Chris Spicer, Team GB’s performance director, said that Peaty’s impact was especially significant for the emerging crop of swimmers who now train with him daily in Loughborough. That group had collectively already won seven gold, five silver and three bronze medals at the European Championships earlier this year. “You can see our youngsters watching how he [Peaty] trains,” said Spicer. “He is just an inspiration - a leader in more ways than just swimming fast in the pool.”
Peaty immediately tweeted his congratulations. "Seeing this team progress over the last six years has been an honour - we always knew one day they would win the big one," he said. "Incredible effort and no one deserves it more than these lads."
Team GB’s hopes have probably also been aided by the one year Olympic postponement. Dean has improved upon his personal best by almost two seconds since last summer while Abbie Wood, Katie Hopkin, Jacob Whittle, Freya Anderson and Kathleen Dawson have all also been developing quickly over the past year.
Wood had earlier come agonisingly close to continuing Team GB’s aquatic medal rush, missing out on bronze by just 0.11 sec following a blanket finish in the women’s 200m individual medley.
The 22-year-old was in third place at the final turn following the butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke legs but, having vied for the lead in the final sprint for the final, was just edged out in the final metres as the top four swimmers all finished within 0.67 sec of each other.
Ohashi Yuo made it a home win for Japan, finishing in 2min 8.52 sec, with Americans Alex Walsh and Katie Douglas just also touching ahead of Wood.
A 22-year-old criminology student at Loughborough University, Wood had already won three medals earlier this year at the European Championships and was trying to continue the tradition of Siobhan Marie O’Connor in the medley who won silver in Rio before retiring shortly before these Games due to a long-term illness..
James Wilby and Alys Thomas had also qualified for respective finals on Thursday in the men’s 200m breaststroke and women’s 200m butterfly, with Wilby, who placed fifth behind Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke final on Monday, recording the second best time in the competition. Wilby had been swimming under world record pace for the first 100 metres and finished less than a second outside the Olympic record.