Slipping off the wall at the start of the biggest swimming race of your life is the stuff of nightmares but Kathleen Dawson kept her composure to surge all the way to Olympic gold.
Along with breaststroke star Adam Peaty, James Guy (butterfly) and Anna Hopkin on the freestyle anchor leg, Dawson’s backstroke performance helped Team GB triumph in the first-ever Olympic 4x100m mixed medley relay final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Saturday.
It wasn’t just another gold medal to add to the already-historic haul from Great Britain’s swimmers at these Olympics, but a world record-destroying performance – their time of 3:37.58 a full 0.83s better than the old best.
The British quartet finished 1.28s ahead of China in silver, with Australia in bronze, and Kirkcaldy-born, Warrington-raised Dawson admits that a slight mistake when about to lead the team off gave her a heart-in-mouth moment.
“I had a little bit of an issue at the start,” explained the 23-year-old after a triumph broadcast live on Eurosport and discovery+. “I couldn’t quite feel my hands and then somehow, I slipped when I went in – I wasn’t sure what I did when I did it!
“I managed to keep calm, focus on getting the best performance out of myself I could though.
“I wasn’t going to let them bully me, I was going to swim my own race and it didn’t matter if it was two guys or two girls I was up against.”
One of the unique charms of the 4x100m mixed medley relay, which has been a roaring success at its debut Games, is the novelty of seeing male and female swimmers go head to head.
Each country is compelled to put two male and two female athletes in its quartet but which strokes are assigned to which gender is entirely up to them.
It leads to match-ups such as men’s and women’s 100m breaststroke champions Lydia Jacoby and Peaty swimming in adjacent lanes and Hopkin trying (and succeeding) to hold off all-conquering American superstar Caeleb Dressel on the anchor leg.
Dawson’s opening leg split time was a solid 58.80s despite the faulty start and kept Team GB well in contention as she handed over to the dominant Peaty.
Victory ultimately made it a dream Olympic debut for Dawson and she helped continue a brilliant competition for the British swimmers – with the fourth gold being the most won in the pool by Team GB at an Olympics since 1908.
Dawson and Hopkin were the first female British swimmers at Tokyo 2020 to put a medal round their necks but the latter is convinced the women’s team are heading in the right direction.
“The women’s team is really strong – we’ve had so many people getting into finals, fourth places and so close to medals,” said Hopkin.
“We’re just building year on year and our time will come by the next Olympics.”
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