Great Britain

Tokyo Olympics: Adam Peaty leads GB to 4x100m mixed relay gold in race of fascinating chaos

Anna Hopkin will experience many things in her swimming career but it is unlikely she will ever again have five-time Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel hunting her down. At the end of this mad, chaotic, absorbing 4x100m mixed relay final, an event making its Olympic debut, Britain’s Hopkin held off America’s alpha sprinter to clinch thrilling gold. “It’s pretty cool to say I beat Caeleb Dressel,” she said with a grin.

In the end the rapidly advancing Dressel had been left with too much to do, finishing fifth for USA despite a fast 46.99sec split. Britain’s starting trio of Kathleen Dawson, Adam Peaty and James Guy had earned the lead and Hopkin’s strong freestyle leg of 52.00 was good enough to hold off second-place China’s Yang Junxuan (52.71) and Australia’s Emma McKeon (51.73) in third. As she turned to see a new world record flash up on the screen, Hopkin received a hug from the outstretched Peaty as they celebrated a narrow triumph.

There were two things that this race reaffirmed. First, that Britain is enjoying a golden generation of swimming talent, with seven golds now in Tokyo and at least one more expected on Sunday, which would make their greatest ever Olympic haul. Second, that the 4x100m mixed relay is brilliant fun and must become a staple on the agenda.

The tactics are intriguing. Each team can choose their line-up of two men and two women to swim backstroke, then breaststroke, then butterfly before finishing with freestyle. The optimal strategy is to have a fast man swim the breaststroke, given it’s the slowest discipline and generates the biggest time gaps, and it just so happens that Britain have one.

Peaty began the second leg in sixth position with the race effectively split in two groups – four nations had started with men, four with women. Dawson’s grip slipped off the bar as she began her opening backstroke leg – “I couldn’t quite feel my hands and somehow I slipped when I went in,” she explained – and although she recovered well on the home stretch, it left some ground to make up.

Peaty doesn’t like losing, and his biggest challenge was staying calm enough to execute his supreme technique. “It was trying to get me pumped down, not up,” he said, reflecting on his third Olympic gold medal. “It sounds silly but if I see something ahead of me all I want to do is go, I see red. So the first 50 is about control, control, control, and then as soon as you come off that wall give it everything, all the emotion, everything.”

By this point it was brilliantly chaotic to follow, but gradually Peaty’s name began climbing the leaderboard on the big screen. He delivered a 56.78, a tenth faster than his own world record, a stunning performance even if relay times are massaged a little by the chance to anticipate your teammate touching the wall. He had closed the gap to the three teams who doubled up on men in the first two legs: China, Italy and the ROC.

Then came Guy, who admitted he’d been in tears after a decision made with his coaches to pull out of the 100m butterfly to focus on this relay as well as Sunday’s show closer, the men’s 4x100m medley. He produced a ferocious 50.00 split, enough to suggest he would have been among the medals in the individual event, and as he did so he passed the three leading teams’ women before handing over to Hopkin, who resisted the chase by Australia and China.

“I knew they had girls on the last legs and so these guys got me such a great lead that I knew I could stay ahead of them,” said Hopkin. “Obviously I also had Dressel coming at me! But there’s just so much going on that there’s no point looking anywhere else. I was not going to lose that lead for these guys. To come away with a gold and world record at my first Olympics, it’s just beyond what I thought could happen. It’s fabulous.” It really was.

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