Separated by a fingernail in Tokyo, by half an arm in Birmingham, and by one step on a podium at both. Only this time it was Duncan Scott looking down on Tom Dean, his close rival and closer friend, after an act of revenge that doubled as one of the finest races of these Commonwealth Games.
On a night when Ben Proud won a butterfly gold of redemption, and Adam Peaty made a mockery of fears around his fitness, it was the brilliance of Scott and the proximity of Dean in the 200m freestyle final that justified their billing as the men to watch in a schedule loaded with quality.
How could it be any other way, given the compelling theatre of what we are seeing in their duels?
For the Tokyo Olympics, read a Dean gold medal by 0.04sec and the tightest of hugs from Scott, his Team GB colleague; for Sandwell Aquatics Centre, read a Scott gold by 0.4sec in the colours of Scotland and a return of magnanimous compliments from a beaten Englishman.
Duncan Scott narrowly missed out on gold in the 200m freestyle at the 2020 Olympics
Doubtless it is Dean who has acquired the better portion of that split for now, but judging from the heights to which they are dragging one another, the grander scores could well be levelled at Paris 2024, when they are back in Team GB tracksuits.
Dean captured the madness of their similar trajectories, saying: ‘We finished and he just said, “One-two again”. We said the same at the trials and at the Olympics last year. One-two at an international competition again and we’re going to keep doing that and keep doing that.
‘We push each other on. I just can’t seem to get away from him — every time I race he’s there, whether it’s a small little home competition or the Olympic Games, he’s always there. He’s annoying sometimes — but it’s only a good thing and I will always have good memories. The bond we have is more important than our rivalry.’
While he spoke, Scott was busy winning a bronze in the 400m individual medley, all the more impressive for having missed this summer’s World Championships with a difficult bout of Covid. That’s another similarity — when Dean won his two gold medals at the Olympics, which included the 200m freestyle relay alongside Scott, it followed after twice being struck down by the virus.
In this case, and given the recency of Scott’s bout, Dean was theoretically the favourite in Birmingham and he led the Scot at halfway by 0.03sec. That switched to the tightest of advantages for Scott going into the final length, which he translated into a tight win in 1:45.02. Aussie Elijah Winnington was third.
Tom Dean beat Scott in the 200m freestyle final in Tokyo by the finest of margins
Earlier, Adam Peaty abolished any fears about his form by surging into Sunday’s 100m breaststroke final. If a degree of rust was detectable in his morning heat, and indeed justifiable by having broken his foot 10 weeks ago, then that was stripped away by the evening, when he became the fastest qualifier for the big one by a full 0.78sec.
To win gold in this discipline, and then again in the 50m next week, would rather play to the theory that the local lad could have swum in his protective boot and still made the podium. That is not a withering reflection on the standard competition so much as a reflection of his domination.
For some detail on that, he is unbeaten in the longer distance for eight years and hasn’t lost in the 50 since the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast — fully fit, he is as close to being a banker as any athlete in any sport.
That and a bullish personality makes him the biggest star of these Games, which would also explain his capacity for stirring a crowd. His semi-final had to be delayed, such was the noise that greeted his walk to the blocks and continued to the extent that the lambs awaiting slaughter were visibly distracted. When they were set off at the second attempt, Peaty cruised to the final in 59.02sec.
‘Not bad for four weeks’ training is it?’ he said. ‘I enjoyed that really a lot tonight. Times are obviously a little bit off. But I am always putting expectations on myself. It has been a very difficult season so far, but I am still getting results.
‘It’s only my fourth race in the whole year so I am still learning, still overcoming.’
Adam Peaty qualified for Sunday’s 100m breaststroke final with the fastest time from the heats
The crowning moment of the evening, from an English perspective, came when two-time world champion Proud broke his own Games record in winning the 50m butterfly. It followed four years after his defence of the title he won in 2014 was ended by a controversial disqualification when he was adjudged to have twitched on his starting blocks.
Having dominated the final here, touching in 22.81sec, a massive 0.4sec clear of Singapore’s Tzen Wei Teong, he said: ‘Eight years ago I took a gold and four years ago I felt it was taken from me. I don’t want to be emotional but it has been a tough one.
‘It is more than just another win, it is what I dedicate my life to. It is my career. It is my legacy. It is special. This is my redemption. It is a love-hate relationship with swimming sometimes but right now I love it more than I hate it.’
Moments later, there was a 50m breaststroke silver for England’s Imogen Clark. And Paul Williams took the same shade in the 100m backstroke.
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