Three events, three finals, three medals. On Friday morning Duncan Scott won a silver in the men’s 200m individual medley, to go with the silver in the 200m freestyle and the gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay he won earlier this week. Add in the two silvers he won in the relays in 2016, and he is now the most successful British Olympic swimmer since the Edwardian era. One more and he will be the first British athlete in any sport to win four medals at one Olympics. Given that he still has two events left, the men’s medley relay and the mixed medley relay, there’s every chance he will do it, too.
Not that Scott’s worried about any of that right now. He is so busy he hardly has time to stop and talk, let alone think about all the records he has a chance of breaking. When you do get a word with him, you can tell he is having the time of his life. His only regret was that he was not able to win an individual gold medal. He was beaten by his teammate Tom Dean in the 200m freestyle and by China’s Wang Shun in the medley, but he got over both disappointments pretty quickly. “Initially I was really gutted,” the 24-year-old said, before he broke into a grin. “But I’ve had enough time to think about it a bit more and let it sink in.”
When Scott does get a chance to look back at it all, he will see that this individual medley final was one of the great races. For four successive Games, it belonged to Michael Phelps. He won it in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, which means there are some swimmers competing here in Tokyo this week who were not even born the last time anyone else had a look-in, and others who have spent their entire careers waiting for this, a first chance to swim in an Olympic final without having to race someone who cannot be beaten. There were some of the greatest medley swimmers of all time in this race, four of the eight fastest men in history, all waiting for this opportunity.
Scott was not one of them. Glasgow-born, he did medley swimming as a junior but swam it at a major championships for the first time in 2018. Apparently his regular event programme of the 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 4x100m medley relay, 4x100m freestyle relay, and 4x200m freestyle relay was not busy enough, so he decided to fill the gaps in his schedule by taking on the most technically demanding event in swimming, one that requires mastery of all four strokes and the turns and transitions between them.
On the starting blocks, Scott had Kosuke Hagino, the former world swimmer of the year, Michael Andrew, the US champion, and Laszlo Cseh, who won his first of his six Olympic medals in 2004, on one side, and Wang, who finished third behind Phelps in 2016, and Daiya Seto, the world champion, on the other. Every single one of them had a better personal best in this event than Scott. Or they did, anyway. “There’s not many who are quicker now,” Scott said. His time of 1min 55.28sec was the seventh-fastest in history. The man is a natural-born racer. Switzerland’s Jérémy Desplanches took the bronze.
Scott was even happier for his friend Luke Greenbank, who won bronze in the 200m backstroke. They have been on swimming teams together since 2014 and he knows how much Greenbank has been through. Now 23, he won bronze in this event at the Youth Olympics in 2014 but struggled to make the transition into senior swimming and went through a miserable few years. The bronze here was a reward for sticking with the sport. The two of them will likely both be on Great Britain’s team for the men’s 4x100m medley on Sunday. For Scott, it will be his 10th race of the week. It is a lunatic schedule.
“I think some people would find that quite challenging, yeah,” Scott said, “and it is something I’ve had to get better and better at, probably since the last Olympics really, trying to park one swim and move on to the next. You have to manage yourself physically but I think it’s toughest mentally, really, because it’s really draining.”
The secret, he said through another big smile, is to “get out of the building really sharp, try not to do too many questions with the media, because it’s really important that you try to minimise your time in the arena and the environment.” And with that, he was gone, off to the training pool to begin his warm-down. You could count the hours till he would be back again.