The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Scott inspired by Phelps in five-medal bid
HE announced himself by swimming faster than the man with the most medals of them all. Now Duncan Scott plans to turn his potential into his own Michael Phelps-esque Olympic haul.
The 24-year-old Scot enhanced his popularity further when he refused to share a podium with Chinese drug cheat Sun Yang after finishing behind him at the 2019 World Championships.
But it was back at Rio 2016 that he gave the clearest hint of his potential when, in the 4x200 metres freestyle relay, he clocked a quicker leg than Phelps despite Great Britain eventually trailing the USA to claim silver.
Scott cherishes a photograph of Phelps seeking him out after that race for a congratulatory handshake — the hand of GOAT, if you will — and the Olympic legend later described the Brit as a top talent.
‘Michael is someone I’ve looked up to massively, so it was a really special moment getting to compete against him in one of his last races and even outsplit him,’ recalls Scott.
They faced each other again in the 4x100m medley relay in Rio, when Phelps claimed his 23rd and final Olympic gold medal and Scott a second silver.
But inspired by his idol, this time in Tokyo the Stirling-based swimmer is going for gongs in five events. And it is a feat which could see him outshine British Swimming’s poster boy Adam Peaty, who can claim only a maximum of three. Should Scott pull it off, not only would it be the biggest medal haul ever won by a Team GB athlete at a single Games, he would also become the most decorated British Olympic swimmer of all time, surpassing Henry Taylor, who claimed the last of his five medals 101 years ago.
If it sounds an unthinkable achievement, the statistics suggest otherwise. The national record Scott set in the 200m at British selection trials in April shot him to the top of the world rankings. In the 200m medley, an event he has recently added to his repertoire, only American Michael Andrew has gone faster this year.
Scott has dropped the 100m freestyle from his programme but he will still go in three relays — the 4x100m medley, which Great Britain are world champions in, as well as the 4x100m and 4x200 freestyle. ‘Duncan is one of these athletes who has flown under the public’s radar but we always knew he had this quality,’ British Swimming performance director Chris Spice tells the Mail on Sunday.
‘He hasn’t got the recognition he deserves. He is a three-time world champion and this could be the right time for him here. All things are pointing in the right direction.
‘In the relays, we can always rely on Duncan to throw in a good split. Now he is bringing that same level of performance into his individual races. The longer the meet goes on, it doesn’t seem to affect him at all. Some of his best racing has been at the back end of a heavy programme. He is really fine-tuned. He has been training for five years doing double sessions and back-to-back racing.’
Scott, who begins his programme this morning in the 200m freestyle heats, is also confident he can handle his workload and the weight of expectation.
‘My internal expectations are far greater than any external pressure that anyone can put on me,’ he says. ‘I’m aware of how difficult the programme is and it will be very challenging. But I have trained for that. Over the last five years, it’s something we have targeted. Doing back-to-back swims is something I am quite good at.’
Scott is keen for his swimming to do the talking following all the fuss about his podium protest in Gwangju two years ago.
‘That’s the last thing that will be on my mind,’ he adds.