Former coach Paul Lloyd savours moment as Tom Dean becomes Olympic champion

When Tom Dean touched home to become Olympic champion in the early hours of Tuesday morning, it was all a bit too much for former Maidenhead Marlins Swimming Club coach, Paul Lloyd, to take in.

Although he was ‘bursting with pride’ on the inside, Paul remained completely silent as his wife, Annie, grabbed him and shouted, ‘he's done it, Tom's done it'.

Family and friends, as well as Maidenhead Marlins clubmates, had gathered to watch the 200m freestyle final in Tom's back garden in Maidenhead, but Paul chose instead to watch and savour the moment with his wife at home.

He admits the enormity of Tom’s achievement didn't sink in for quite some time, however, he feels great pride at having played a role in laying the groundwork for Tom to achieve his Olympic success.

“I was at home with my lovely wife Annie,” said Paul. “We just savoured the moment in peace and quiet. “I realise now through analysing my feelings that one, through the heat, semi-final and final, I was much calmer than I thought I'd be. It's almost like it didn't sink in.

“When he won the gold, Annie jumped up and shook me and said, 'he's done it, Tom's done it, it's amazing'. If you'd had a video on me, you might have thought, 'what's he doing, he's not even happy', but I was bursting on the inside, it was just a bit much to take in.”

Paul coached Tom through his formative years at Maidenhead Marlins Swimming Club, nurturing his talent from the age of eight to 18, before he left to attend the University of Bath and join the swimming's National Performance Centre there.

He always knew Tom was talented, the junior titles and performances showed that, but it wasn't until he saw how well he was developing at Bath that he thought he may have a chance of being selected for GB's senior men's team and competing for world medals.

The decision to delay the Games by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped and also hindered Tom's chances of Olympic glory. On the one hand it gave him an extra year to prepare, and build the strength and stamina needed to compete with the world's best. On the other hand, he was hindered by two debilitating bouts of coronavirus which disrupted his training regime and left him in isolation while his rivals continued to swim.

“Once he'd established himself, having moved on to the performance centre at Bath, and I saw that he'd become a key member of the men's senior relay team there, I was very confident we'd given him the foundation to carry on and progress,” said Paul.

“It’s easy to say now because the evidence is clearly there, but I felt that we'd nurtured him so well.

“Talking to coaches at Bath they were so impressed with him, and it became fairly obvious when he won accolades like the junior swimmer of the year with British Swimming, that he was one of the swimmers they were pinning their hopes on.

“It also helped that they focused on the 4x200m relay, the stars aligned for him in that sense, and it was an even that he could tailor himself to.

“I was very confident and hopeful and, then we had the year's delay which played into his hands and allowed him to become stronger, because he was quite a late developer. I would be more confident that Tom would have come through in Paris in 2024, but I’m delighted that it’s happened now.”

Paul admits a favourable draw, which placed Tom next to the Korean swimmer Hwang Sun-woo played into the Maidenhead swimmer's hands, however, having spoken to Tom and exchanged messages with him both before and during the competition, he felt he had a calmness and confidence about him going into the final.

“He and Duncan (Scott) posted the two fastest times in the world at the GB trials so we knew he had a cracking chance,” said Paul. “But there's always that little bit of doubt in your mind, and we suffer from the old British pessimism at times as well.

“Things played into his hands slightly in the final, because he'd had the experience of going up against the Korean in the heat. So, it wasn't a surprise to him to see him go off quick again in the final. It was good to be on that side of the draw with the Korean, who took it out fast.

“Tom's race plan was to make a solid first 50m, because he wants to get himself into the top end of the race. He then holds the middle 100m before trying to finish strong. Having that person to pace himself with was in his favour for sure, but you also have to make your own luck.”

Tom became a double Olympic champion yesterday morning (Wednesday) after swimming the opening leg of Team GB's impressive victory in the final of 4x200m freestyle competition. Dean got them off to a solid start and Scott brought the team home, just outside a new world record time.

“He was confident in himself, and he knew his race plan,” added Paul. “He was determined to seize the moment and embrace it and look what's happened.

“The club (Maidenhead Marlins) has had some massive financial support from the Louis Baylis Trust over the last few years and from the Leisure Trust and it's given us the platform to help Tom and other swimmers.

“This is going to take the inspiration that Tom brings (to the club) to another level. The fact that they know him and he’s a human being to him, he’s not a face on a newspaper to them like maybe Adam Peaty is. People like that appear sometimes to be almost supernatural, so the fact they know him, and have known him since he was young, that will be massive.”

The professionalism that Tom, and his generation, has already brought a culture and a discipline to the club that now filters through to the very youngest age. His application has borne fruit and they try to copy that from a distance. He’ll inspire more people to want to swim. Some of those kids who are talented at a range of sports, suddenly swimming is more appealing to them as it might have been. It’s amazing for our club, but also for the community and the wider area.”

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