10:00AM, Sunday 17 January 2021
Tom Dean’s preparations for this summer’s Olympics have been through some turbulent waters, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing him out of the pool for long period and making him ‘lose his feel for the water’ at one stage.
But despite setbacks, which included another ‘bump in the road’ in September due to a positive case within the National Training Centre in Bath, the Maidenhead swimmer produced one of his best results to date when he beat a competitive field – and the world number one – to win the 400m freestyle at the International Swimming League event in Budapest.
The win has given Dean a major boost ahead of what’s likely to be his first Olympic Games in Tokyo later this summer. He’s now focused on qualifying for his events and possibly the 4x200m relay team and producing his best form his country in Japan.
His swims in Budapest, for the London Roar team, took him to within two-tenths of the British record for the 400m freestyle, a record he’s hoping to take this season as he builds his strength and conditioning ahead of the Olympics.
“It was a big, big competition which every major swimmer in the world was attending,” he said.
“There was an exciting new format to the competition, but a week before it got underway, we were stuck in our flats unable to train due to a COVID case within the National Swimming Centre. That was a bit tough.
“London made it through to the final and finished up third overall, which was pretty good, but individually my swims improved as the competition progressed and I managed to win both the semi-final and final in my event which I was very pleased with after time out of the pool due to isolation reasons. It was an unexpected highlight to a season that had been otherwise stripped of all competition.”
Dean hopes that highlight in what's been a challenging year will spur him on to even greater achievements in 2021.
As an elite swimmer he’s been able to train with his GB teammates at the National Training Centre in Bath, where he’s also at university, but despite spending more time out of the water than he’d have liked this season, he appears to be in great shape heading into an Olympic year.
Dean specialises in the middle-distance freestyle events, the 200m and the 400m. He’s also hoping to qualify for the 4x200m relay, an event that’s traditionally been strong for Team GB.
He hopes there will be a few events to compete at in the coming months before the Olympic trials are staged at the Olympic pool in London in April.
At present that event is set to go ahead, but Dean admits it will be difficult for club swimmers to compete against the elite GB swimmers who’ve had almost unobstructed access to pools and facilities this year.
“It was a huge boost getting that result in the ISL,” he said. “You’re up against the best in the world. I was up against the world number one, Danas Rapsis, the Lithuanian world champion. Being able to race these guys and be successful is exciting.
“My time in the final was a personal best, it was just two tenths of a second off the British record, which was frustrating as I really did want it.
“Hopefully, next season I’ll be able to clinch that.
“Now it’s a case of getting my head down ahead of the Olympic trials in April. I think they’ll be going ahead but following strict guidelines. There will be testing, and we have to stay in individual hotel rooms.
“There is a meet in Manchester and Edinburgh in February and March respectively and then the trials at the Olympic pool in London in April, assuming they go ahead, there could be delays.
“The vaccine news is very positive and Olympic athletes are in line to get it before the summer.
“But with most of the country being in lockdown for most of the last 12 months, how can they expect age group clubs like Maidenhead to attend and compete at the trials after so few weeks training and compete against National Centre swimmers who have been fortunate enough to have trained throughout lockdown? Not everyone is in the fortunate position I’m in.
“It’s a real tough one for British Swimming. The Olympic trials is about giving everyone in the UK who is attending the trials, all 1,500 of them an equal chance to make it onto the Olympic team and I just can’t see how they’re going to do that this year unfortunately.”
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