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‘Olympic gold seemed a million miles off’: How Tom Dean battled back from COVID to win big in Tokyo

Written by on 27/07/2021

Seven months ago, Tom Dean contracted COVID-19 for a second time and couldn’t walk up the stairs “without coughing and wheezing.” Now, he has powered to victory in the men’s 200 metres freestyle at the Olympics.

Dean finished in a time of 1:44:22, setting a new record for Britain, ahead of fellow Brit Duncan Scott.

The 21-year-old had his doubts about even making it to the Tokyo Olympics after he contracted coronavirus for a second time at the start of the year, which forced him to spend up to seven weeks out.

Tom Dean beat his fellow Brit by 0.04 seconds to take the gold medal
Image: Tom Dean beat his fellow Brit by 0.04 seconds to take the gold medal

After testing positive in January, he said his symptoms were much more severe than the first time he caught COVID.

“I was quite ill for about 10 days and I served the whole isolation period and it’s a slow build back up because of the nature of the sport we do and of the disease,” he told reporters.

“You can’t just go straight back into full-on training so it required a few weeks … two or three months out of our Olympic trials and I’m stuck inside unable to even exercise.

“It was tough to wrap my head around that in an Olympic year.

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“I think I was one of the first athletes in any British Olympic sport to contract COVID twice in such a short space of time … and I’m thinking… ‘How am I going to be able to recover from this in time?'”

He told the BBC’s Today programme he couldn’t walk up the stairs “without coughing and wheezing”.

“When I was sitting in my flat in isolation, Olympic gold seemed like a million miles off. But here we are,” he added.

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Wild scenes back home as Tom Dean bags swimming gold

Dean’s mother said she told him “my heart is bursting” after his victory.

Jacquie Hughes told Sky News her son’s life has “changed forever” after he became the first British man to win an Olympic freestyle title in 113 years.

“Before the race he was very quiet, contained and internal and very methodical, he knew what he had to do, he just wanted to get on with it,” she said.

“After the race he said: ‘Mum I just feel like I’m in a dream I knew I could win it but none of it’s sunk in.'”

Ms Hughes added: “I just said to him, ‘Tom my heart is bursting’ – and it’s not just because you have won a gold medal, it’s the way he conducts himself, the way he picks himself up after disappointment.

“He’s had two bouts of COVID this year, it’s really knocked his plan off. I’m just so proud of the way he approaches it.”

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Dean ‘felt like he was in a dream’ after win, says mum

Footage shared on the Team GB Twitter account shows Dean’s family celebrating in the early hours of Tuesday as they watched the event live in Maidenhead.

A large crowd can be seen cheering him on and then ecstatically embracing each other as he wins.

Dean’s victory was Team GB’s fourth gold medal at this year’s Games.

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