BIG INTERVIEW: Chorley Olympic golden girl Anna Hopkin sees a bright future ahead for Team GB
Chorley’s Anna Hopkin sees no reason why Team GB cannot build on their success at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Tokyo was Britain’s best-ever Games in the swimming pool, with the squad winning eight medals – four gold, three silver and one bronze – beating their previous best of seven, set in 1908 in London.
Duncan Scott became the first British athlete to win four medals at a single Olympics, while there was gold and silver for Tom Dean and Scott in the 200m freestyle – the first time since 1908 that Britain have secured a first-and-second finish in the Olympic pool.
And gold for Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke, saw him become the first Briton to defend an Olympic swimming title.
All told, Team GB finished third in the swimming medal table, behind America and Australia.
One of those golds was won by Hopkin and her Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay team-mates Kathleen Dawson, Peaty and James Guy, in one of the highlights of the Games. In a thrilling final, Hopkin was up against seven-time Olympic gold medallist Caeleb Dressel on the anchor leg, and showed remarkable focus and composure to steer the team home (right) in a world record time of 3:37:58.
“It’s nice so many people have said they watched that relay,” said Hopkin as she looked back on a remarkable race.
“They might have no interest in swimming, but watched it because of how it changes throughout, guys against girls, with no idea what was going to happen – I think it is making more people engage with swimming.
“It’s amazing, it makes the whole thing more entertaining, so to be part of that was so exciting.
“It felt like a long wait for me as the anchor, you have one eye on what is going on, but don’t want to psych yourself out.
“I watched Kathleen (Dawson) go, and she was against all these guys, which was really difficult, and you know Adam (Peaty) will catch up a lot.
“When Jimmy (Guy) went in, you are looking at whether you are going to have enough of a lead, so you have all that going on, but when he’s coming in to the wall, you’re thinking, ‘Just don’t get disqualified!’
“You don’t have time to think about it.
“The whole day before I was quite nervous because I knew there would be a gold medal opportunity and I wanted to be the one on the anchor, but it’s a big responsibility and you don’t want to be the one letting everyone else down.
“No one on the team put any excess pressure on, which was nice, just enjoy it, just think about your processes and the race plan – it could be quite easy for someone to say, ‘You better not lose this’, which doesn’t help.
“It is quite easy for the anchor to take the blame if it doesn’t go your way, but it’s a team effort and whether you win or lose, it’s the team.
“We’re all there to support each other.”
And there were happy tears at topping the podium, as the dream of winning gold became reality.
Fulfilling her goal of becoming an Olympian was a big enough moment earlier that week, as she finished seventh in the 100m freestyle final, having set a national record in the heats, and fifth in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
And she added: “I think pretty much everyone on the team cried at some point that week, such highs of emotions.
“It all hit me at my 100 freestyle final when I spoke to my coach, I got quite emotional because I realised I’d just been in an Olympic final and the next day, winning gold.”
Many athletes who achieve their aim of becoming an Olympian mark the achievement by being tatooed, and Hopkin is taking the plunge.
She said: “I’m actually getting a tattoo of the Olympic rings – you can’t not do.”
The Games were unique, given no fans could attend due to a Covid-19 state of emergency in Japan, but went on to become a spectacular event, with many indelible memories.
The IOC president Thomas Bach insisted the Games had given “hope and confidence not just to the Olympic movement but to the entire world.”
And Hopkin admitted it ultimately felt special despite the lack of spectators.
She said: “It was quite weird when we first got there, it almost felt like any other competition, then when we walked out for the heats, we were like, ‘It doesn’t feel like the Olympics’.
“But when you start watching other sports and get that multi-sport feel, and you start winning medals and realise you’re part of that bigger GB team, then it starts to feel like an Olympics.
“By the time we walked out for the finals, it was nice, and nice to do it with three other people in the relays, nice to share that with them.
“Even with no spectators there was a good atmosphere, you could still hear your team-mates in the stands, huge teams from America and Australia you could hear, so it created quite a good atmosphere.”
There is no rest for Hopkin, who, after a whirlwind tour of the UK fulfilling media duties and visits with her gold medal, is off to Italy at the end of the month for the first of three phases in season three of the International Swimming League at the Piscina Felice Scandone in Naples.
But the future looks bright for Hopkin and her GB teammates.
She added: “I was probably one of the youngest in the (100m freestyle) final, so definitely come Paris I’ll be hoping to do well there.
“You don’t get many female swimmers over 30, I guess in the sprint events there is more capacity to keep going longer, but 28 won’t be old for a sprinter. I’ll see how it’s going.
“It’s amazing to be part of (record Olympics), I think we have a lot of momentum going, and I think it feels like we’re starting something.
“Rio was a really good games, and I think we’ve moved it on, and hopefully by Paris we can move it on again.
“A lot of the team and quite young and it was their first Olympics, so it just shows that there is still more to come from everyone. It’s not like everyone is going to be retiring, everyone has the potential to be in Paris.”
And the team’s success in the pool means vital funding is likely to increase, hopefully increasing the chances of more medals in the future.
“It is hard with the funding, there is only so much to go around and there has to be some way of deciding who gets what – often decided by medals,” said Hopkin.
“We don’t try and focus on that, it’s quite a lot of pressure to put on people – ‘You need to win ‘X’ amount of medals to get this funding’, they never say that to us, but it is a big factor in where the funding goes.
“We all know how important it is to succeed at an Olympics, so it’s amazing we managed to do that and there is funding going into the next cycle, which will boost us going into Paris.
“But if you get a gain, another sport misses out, which is hard.”