The family of Great Britain’s Tom Dean celebrated like “lunatics” after he claimed an Olympic gold medal in the men’s 200 metres freestyle, his mother has said.
Dean, 21, who was “knocked for six” after contracting coronavirus for a second time earlier this year, finished in a time of one minute and 44.22 seconds, ahead of his British compatriot Duncan Scott, at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
His mother Jacquie Hughes, 58, speaking to the PA news agency, said up to 70 family and friends watched the race in her garden in Maidenhead, Berkshire, despite the event starting in the early hours of Tuesday.
She said: “To be honest I haven’t taken it all in yet, everything has been so nerve-racking, the final was amazing and that with the lack of sleep has meant I’m on an adrenaline-filled rush.
“I know Tom feels the same way, he told me it’s like a dream and that it doesn’t feel real, like nothing happened but he still has a race to do and was back in a pool within hours.
“Everyone was so supportive, I was blown away by the number of people who were invested in it, the garden was mad, we were like lunatics.
“I think half of Maidenhead will be at the airport to cheer him home with banners and flags, he’s put Maidenhead on the map.”
Ms Hughes said the reaction filmed in their garden was “a mixture of disbelief and pent-up energy” that had “exploded”.
She added: “A few people have said ‘that was the best couple of minutes of my life’, ‘that was one of the best things I’ve been part of’, so everyone was so generous and so happy for us.”
She said the party had created a “really memorable piece of footage” for her son, who had already seen it and “absolutely loves it”.
Ms Hughes said her son was “calm and analytical” ahead of the race, and had been advised to try to limit contact with family and friends.
She has taken her son to swimming competitions around the world and watched all his races, but had been unable to share their ritual of eye contact on the blocks and an exchange of thumbs up while he was in Tokyo.
But she told him that he should “know that we’re there in spirit” and that “we’re giving you a virtual thumbs up”.
Dean, who is the second of five children, who all swam at a national level, has been congratulated by a number of former Olympic swimmers, including Adrian Moorhouse and Mark Foster.
His older sister Connie Dean said the win had not yet sunk in, but said it was “really special” and “incredible”.
She added: “Being the oldest is really cool because when you see your younger siblings do something spectacular, or anything at all, it’s like heart-wrenchingly amazing”.
As a family of swimmers, Donnie said her brother’s victory “makes it all worth it” after enduring hard work and sacrifices.
“He just stuck with it, above and beyond all of us and I’m so proud of him,” she said.
Dean’s youngest brother William Dean said the experience of watching the Olympic final race was “insane”.
“It’s something like I’ve never felt before, it felt like my heart was going to explode,” he said.
Ms Hughes added: “It will be interesting to see what Tom does next, gold medals are seen as the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, but I don’t think he will hang up the goggles.
“Tom has the mindset and drive of someone who will want to chase down his record times and get himself in the record books.
“He’s just got going so I think we could see him in Paris in four years.”
However, Dean had doubts about even making it to this year’s Games, after he contracted coronavirus for a second time at the start of this year, spending up to seven weeks out.
After testing positive again in January, the 21-year-old said his symptoms were much more severe, telling the BBC he could not walk up the stairs “without coughing and wheezing”.
Ms Hughes said: “The second time completely knocked him out, he was knocked for six to be honest and he had only just got back in the pool after lockdown so he was behind on training anyway.
“He couldn’t control his heart rate and struggled completing everyday tasks, which could have shot a hole through his Olympic ambition.
“But Tom, being Tom, put his nose to the grindstone and made up for lost time, he was off the pace during a few other competitions but picked up.”
She added: “My heart is bursting, I can’t explain the feeling, only athletes and parents of athletes understand what it takes.
“For 11 years I took my children to swimming lessons seven times a week and I’m so proud of how Tom has dealt with the setbacks and how humble and gracious he has been.”
Dean became the first British man to win an Olympic freestyle title in 113 years.