Swimmer Duncan Scott is the first British athlete to win four medals at a single Olympics.
While Scott made history, Adam Peaty and James Guy were unable to collect their third golds of Tokyo 2020 after the United States secured top spot in the men’s 4×100m medley relay.
Peaty said the “pain” he feels at settling for silver shows how much progress Great Britain has made in the pool in the last decade.
It took a world record time to beat the 2019 world championship-winning Team GB quartet of Luke Greenbank, Peaty, Guy and Scott as the Americans clocked 3:26.78 seconds at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Britain finished 0.73secs adrift at 3:27:51 in a new European record time as they claimed a record eighth swimming medal – four golds, three silvers and a bronze – beating their previous best haul from the 1908 London Games.
They were unable to win a race at London 2012 while Peaty was their only gold medallist at Rio four years later, so the 26-year-old from Uttoxeter admitted to feeling bittersweet by the result of the final swimming event in Japan.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the American team,” Peaty said.
“They stepped up big time. They knew they had to step up big time. It’s an Olympic silver, people would die for that.
“We will enjoy it but there is a little bit of pain there. Maybe you need that. Maybe you need that going to Paris (2024).
“Ten years ago we were happy making finals. We aren’t happy making finals any more.
“We are happy doing silver and medalling – that’s the culture that is different now – and that’s part of our success. We are aiming for gold, we are aiming to be the best in the world and dominate the world.
“By the time Paris comes around we are going to develop. A lot of teams are going to look at us. We are always looking for gold and for world records, I’m incredibly proud to be part of this team – it’s history-making.”
Peaty swam the fastest breaststroke split ever in 56.53s to vault Britain from seventh after the backstroke to first by the halfway point, but the vaunted Caeleb Dressel seized the initiative with the best-ever butterfly leg.
Dressel, who bagged his fifth gold of these Games in this race, put in a time of 49.03s to set the stage for Zach Apple to complete the job, with Scott unable to make any inroads in the last freestyle leg.
Dressel, said: “I was telling Adam that I think they bring out the best in us, it’s so fun racing with those guys because you don’t know what you’re going to get. There’s no guaranteed winner.”
Scott has won gold in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay and silver in the solo event, as well as finishing runner-up in the 200m individual medley, and it was another second spot on the podium as he made British history on Sunday.
He said: “It’s not really hit me what’s happened. Each race I’ve tried to park when it’s done and look forward to the next one. It was important I didn’t bring in any disappointment or get too excited about what’s happened.
“I think the relay culture in Britain is great. There are great medal opportunities. I’ve got to give a massive credit to my teammates.”
A period of rest and recovery now awaits. Asked how they will unwind, Guy joked “a burger and some chips will do me” while Peaty offered a more sobering reflection at how important time away from the pressures of the sport is.
He said: “You’ve got to celebrate, it’s been hard for everyone. We’re not allowed to touch the water for a month now because it is going to be a war of attrition over the next three years.
“You’re seeing it in all sports now. You’re seeing it with Simone Biles, with Ben Stokes, mental health matters and it is about getting the balance right at that elite level. We love to celebrate, and why shouldn’t we?”
Ben Proud earlier finished fifth in the men’s 50m freestyle final won by Dressel in an Olympic record time of 21.07s, while Daniel Jervis also placed fifth in a 1500m freestyle race where Robert Finke of the USA triumphed in 14:39.65.
Commenting on Scott’s historic win, Mel Young, chair of sportscotland, said: “What a sensational result.
“Duncan Scott is now one of the most decorated British Olympians of all time having won four medals in Tokyo – an unparalleled achievement in modern history. He has made the entire country proud.
“His achievements will take a while to sink in but what is clear is this did not happen overnight.
“Duncan is one of the most dedicated athletes around and has put so much hard work into his training along with his coach, his wider support team and everyone at both Scottish Swimming and British Swimming.
“He deserves all the success and praise he is now rightfully receiving.”