06:03PM, Thursday 29 July 2021
Photo: Simone Castrovillari
Tom Dean will fly home from Japan on Sunday evening having become a double Olympic champion, as well as a national sporting hero almost overnight, and mum Jacquie Hughes says he won’t realise how much the country has got behind him until he touches back down in the UK.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning the first time Olympian produced the swim of his life to edge out teammate Duncan Scott for gold in the individual 200m freestyle, an event that’s been dominated by other nations for many years.
Thousands of miles away in Maidenhead, his family and friends cheered on every stroke as he reeled in his rivals and touched home, just 0.04 seconds ahead of Scott as Team GB claimed a magnificent British one-two.
Just over 24 hours later he was back in the pool in the final of the 4x200m freestyle relay, getting GB off to a solid start before James Guy, Matt Richards and Scott brought the team home for another sensational gold, just 0.03 seconds outside of a new world record.
It’s a mind-boggling achievement for the 21-year-old who travelled to Japan hoping to reach the final and challenge for a medal, but never expecting to achieve such glory. In brief conversations with his mum Jacquie, he’s told her he feels like ‘it’s been a dream’ and that ‘if he opens his eyes, it won’t be real’. The realisation of what he’s achieved for his country probably won’t hit home for a few days. He’s the first British male swimmer to have won two gold medals at the same Olympics since 1908.
Jacquie spent today (Wednesday) busily buying up the national papers, which have Tom’s face and body plastered across the front and back.
She admitted to feeling a little worn out by all the media interviews and the lack of sleep over the last few nights, having hosted two early morning ‘watch parties’ in her back garden. But for now, sleep can wait.
She said: “I’m elated for Tom, and it’s really important to celebrate what he’s done. I can sleep in the future. I spoke with him briefly after his individual win. It was unusual because he felt like he was both in a dream and absolutely shattered. It had taken everything out of him, but he was also concentrating on getting back in the pool and training for the relay.
“He said he felt like he was in a dream, and that if he opened his eyes it wouldn’t be real. But then he also had to do soft tissue massage and doping and then get in the pool for training.
“He was much more relaxed after the relay success, but he said he dare not open his social media because he had thousands of messages to catch up on, which I think he’s been trying to do today (Wednesday).
“He hasn’t been exposed to the coverage over here, and I don’t think he quite gets how much he’s made every daily newspaper and been on every news bulletin. I don’t think he’ll realise quite how much the nation has got behind him until he gets back.
“That’s going to take some getting used to because not many people do this. The last (British) person to do double gold was back in 1908.”
Swimming races are won by such fine margins, and Jacquie couldn’t be sure her son had won individual gold until the graphic flashed up on the screen, prompting wild celebrations with family and friends in her back garden, captured on a video that’s gone viral across the world. She was calmer for the 4x200m relay, but still felt a huge sense of anticipation because she knew how much the race meant to Tom and the team, as well as British Swimming. Plus, by that stage she had no fingernails left to chew on.
“I think he won by three hundredths of a second,” she said. “It’s not like there was clear water between him and second place. I think you can see from that video, everyone is like a coiled spring, and when we saw he’d come first the garden explodes. It was literally watching history because it’s been a long time since a British man has won that race.”
She added: “Any medal for the British team is fantastic. I didn’t have any nails to bite at that point, but I did feel a huge sense of anticipation, because I know how much that race means to the team as Britain has never won the 4x200m relay before.
“They swam for each other and the team. They weren’t just swimming for themselves and individual glory, and that makes it all the more poignant.
“I was nervous, but not in the same way and I just couldn’t be happier. I was as happy with that race as I was with Tom’s individual win. It was wonderful to watch.”
Earlier in the week Jacquie said her heart was bursting with pride for her son after his individual success, but not only because he was the new Olympic champion and more because of how he’s conducted himself at the Games.
She said: “I’ve always said that to him and his siblings. Being good at a thing is fantastic, whether it’s a sport or academically.
“But my pride comes from the fact that they know where they come from, they know what hard work is, they know that they get out what they put in, that they’re not egotistical and they’re gracious.
“That they offer credit where it’s due and they commend the people around them that have helped them. “That they conduct themselves well in the world, that’s what makes me proud.”