Talk about overcoming long odds. In the past year, British swimmer Tom Dean has battled COVID-19 not once, but twice. And now, he’s won two Olympic gold medals in Tokyo.
“This is the single greatest achievement of my life,” the 21-year-old said in a news conference after his victory in the in the men’s 200-meter freestyle Tuesday. “It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true having a gold around my neck.”
Dean set a British record time of 1 minute, 44:22 seconds as fellow teammate Duncan Scott placed second. On Wednesday, Dean won his second gold medal in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
He told reporters that he had tested positive for the virus for the first time last September, but ultimately battled a more serious case of the virus that was diagnosed in January — just a few months ahead of the Olympic trials.
He said that the second case was not life-threatening, but was serious enough to put his swimming career in jeopardy.
Dean hadn’t been sure that he could swim after his second diagnosis. “The Olympic gold was a million miles away,” he said.
Dean revealed his second COVID diagnosis after qualifying for the Tokyo Games in April, saying he was unable to exercise for weeks at a time while in quarantine.
In an April interview, Dean said that “after getting COVID twice, having three weeks out of the pool each time, it’s been pretty brutal coming into trials with some real disruptions.”
“I’m thinking how am I going to be able to recover from this in time to get a solid block of work done before the Olympic trials?” he said on Tuesday. “It was tough kind of wrapping my head around that during an Olympic year.”
Tuesday’s race marked Britain’s first 1-2 finish in Olympic swimming since the 1908 Games in London, according to The Associated Press.