Great Britain found the winning formula for the Olympic premier of the mixed medley relay. The Brits clocked a massive world record (3:37.58) while claiming their fourth gold here in Tokyo, ahead of China and Australia.
The Brits came third at the 2019 Worlds where the Australians triumphed, ahead of the US. The two years and the all the happenings in the meantime reshaped the quartets significantly, none of the top contenders lined up the same teams as in Gwangju. And it was the Brits who improved the most significantly in the meantime.
Well, if you have Adam Peaty, you are definitely in advantage: gaining several tenths if not a second on the others in the breaststroke leg gives you a big edge, provided you have team-mates who could also excel in the other strokes.
With Kathleen Dawson emerging as a premier backstoker at the Europeans in May as well as finding Anna Hopkin for delivering 52sec anchor-legs reliably, the Brits were ready to rock with Peaty and James Guy in the middle of their mix. Their European record in Budapest was already better than the Aussies’ wining effort in Korea. And this time they produced even more speeding in the pool.
Of course, it was not visible immediately – unlike in the mixed free (that’s not in the Olympic programme) where teams usually start with the males to be followed by the females, here the mix is much more determined by the stroke specialists.
GB and the Aussies went for an F-M-M-F formula, the US had F-M-M-F, China and Italy applied M-M-F-F – excitements and fun were guaranteed.
USA’s Ryan Murphy had some revenge on ROC’s Evgeny Rylov in the opening 100m back (52.23 v 52.76) for his individual defeats, though the best ladies stayed within 6sec here, then came a blistering breaststroke leg from Adam Peaty. Compared to his previous splits, this was truly a winning effort: 56.74 (57.73 in 2019, 57.13 in May), a class of its own. However, it was James Guy who really made the difference. He had come 50.72 in Gwangju, 50.61 in Budapest and now geared up for a 50.00 fly leg – compared to Korea, the two males shaved 1.7sec off from their times combined. Add that Dawson and Hopkins also clocked much better times than before so it inevitably turned into a triumphant march.
The other quartets couldn’t match these legs – all but the US had a male for the breaststroke and there the comparison is telling: Peaty gained a full second on Italy, and two on China and Australia – the latter two became the eventual medallists. In this field, two seconds are the golden asset, merely impossible to make it disappear. Even if the Aussies had the two individual world champion Macs for the backstroke and the free (McKeown and McKeon) who outpaced their respective female rivals, the blasts of Peaty and Guy kept everyone else at bay, so the Brits won by 1.28sec. And not against the Aussies – the world titles-holders were stunningly out-touched by the Chinese by 0.11sec for the silver.
Stunningly, the US could not even get close to the podium, they fell way behind over the middle two legs swam by their females and Caeleb Dressel faced a mission impossible to nullify a 6-8sec gap. He could not even catch the Italians who came fourth and the Americans had to settle for the 5th place, their worst ever placement in any Olympic relay event.
"In one word, it's inspiring to be part of the team which is always looking for the one per cent, always looking for more” Adam Peaty said. "We came together as a team and hopefully now this is a catalyst, not only for this Games, but through to the next Games and the one after that.”
"There's no point in British swimming being in such a great position if we're not going to inspire the next team to do it” Peaty added. "It's absolutely incredible. I never thought that one day I'd be a three-time gold medallist at the Olympics.”
As for the debuting event, he said: "It's a fun event and that's what sport needs. It needs to be fun."
James Guy reinforced his mate’s words. "We're always laughing whenever we're together. That's the way we work. Even before we came out here it was about enjoying ourselves and having fun. You should never change who you are, even though you're about to have the biggest race of your life.
"Before we came in we just said to each other 'we can do something special here but everyone has to play their part. Do your own race, process, process, process and it will come to us', and it came."
"These guys got me such a good lead” Anna Hopkin said on her anchor role. “I knew if I was ahead of the girls, I could stay ahead. I knew Dressel was coming behind me, but they got me such a good lead he wasn't catching me."
"It's about going through your own race process and not really focusing on what team's putting in what gender on which leg” Kathleen Dawson said. “I could have gone against two females, two males, it didn't really matter. I just had to go through my own race. I am super proud of the whole team, they've all done so well."