Tom Dean's fails to qualify to defend title at Paris 2024

Tom Dean's fails to qualify to defend title at Paris 2024

Tom Dean walked away from Tokyo 2020 as the new British star in the pool - but now the reigning Olympic 200m freestyle champion will not defend his crown in Paris.

It is a sign of how far swimming in this country has come that Dean could not crack the top two in his favoured event at the recent British trials, despite having been on the podium at the World Championships in both 2022 and 2023 following his spectacular gold in Japan.

Instead, reigning world champion Matt Richards and Tokyo silver medallist Duncan Scott, will carry British hopes, with Dean’s focus set to be on the 200m individual medley, where he won world bronze last year, as well as in a host of relays.

Among them is the 4x200m freestyle, where Britain enter as overwhelming favourites to retain the title they won in Tokyo, and while the chance of a third Olympic gold clearly drives Dean, the disappointment of missing out in the individual will take some getting over.

He said: “It shows how tough the selection policy can be and also how tough that event is within British swimming. I can go on and say how great it is for the relay and I’m really excited for that, of course I am, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t still quite raw and a tough pill to swallow.

“It’s so raw because it was the last race of the Championships. I had three races, the first two were brilliant and I was really, really chuffed with them. For the last one to be a few hundredths the wrong side of selection shows how tough it is in this sport, how tough high performance is, how tough the 200 free within Great Britain is.

“The only other example I can give is the female freestyle in Australia, when they have their trials, inevitably one of the fastest swimmers in the world is going to miss out.

“It’s such a tough event, that is why no one has ever defended the 200m freestyle. It’s brutal but it’s by no means the end of my 200m free career or my Olympic campaign.”

There is understandable frustration for Dean at missing out in his best event, with Britain’s selection policy similar to other swimming powerhouses, the USA and Australia, where everything comes down to performance at the trials.

That is the not case in every country, but even though he is the odd man out this time around, Dean accepts the current criteria brings the best out of swimmers.

He added: “It’s tough when you have to step up and prove yourself again, having been on the podium in that event since Tokyo and being the defending Olympic champion. But at the same time, I can completely understand why it is done that way. People are going to be asked to step up come Paris and perform on the day.

“I can understand the pros and cons, it’s never been something I’ve thought too much about until I’ve unfortunately been on the wrong side of it. But I’m not going to sit here and say the selection policy is all wrong because I misjudged one of my races and came third in what is probably the most competitive event in any country in swimming right now.”

Dean is now one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support. Since bursting onto the scene in Tokyo, Dean has expanded his repertoire, adding the 100m freestyle and 200m individual medley to his schedule – meaning an increase in relay opportunities as a result.

That has led to some incredibly busy meets on the global stage, sometimes hitting double figures’ worth of races between heats, semi-finals and finals.

Even without the individual 200m freestyle, that could be the case again in Paris, particularly if long-time rival Scott withdraws from the 100m freestyle, opening the door for Dean to compete in a second individual race. But it may be that the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay is the best path to matching his Tokyo exploits, with Britain seeking to reach the podium in the event for the first time.

Dean added: “I genuinely believe we would have had a shot at winning the World Championships (in 2023) had we not been disqualified in the heat by a hundredth of a second. If you look at the team at the moment, we had three guys at the trials all under 48 seconds, which has never been done before at trials.

“That really shows the depth in that event. I really feel it is following the same pattern as the 4x2 in recent years. It’s getting stronger, more people want to do it and as they get stronger, the medals follow. I think that is going to be really strong.”

He might not defend his individual title in Paris, but Tom Dean’s Olympic story still has plenty of chapters yet to write.

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