The 27-year-old Wilby had qualified with the second fastest time in his second Olympic final of the meet, the 200m breaststroke, but could only manage sixth in a final where seven of the eight competitors were under world record pace at the halfway stage and Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook broke the Olympic record to take gold, with Holland’s Arno Kamminga second and Finland’s Matti Mattsson collecting bronze.
A tearful Wilby was understandably frustrated at the way he faded down the final length, and revealed that it was his mother Fiona, an NHS nurse who has been on the front line administering Covid vaccines, who has inspired him.
Asked what she meant to him, City of York’s Wilby said: “Oh God, now you’re going to get me emotional. There was always someone that was going to get it, it was either going to be one of my team-mates or one of you guys.
“My mum’s been putting in such a shift for me over the last 27 years and that’s probably been the main disappointment which is I know I’ve made her proud but I haven’t quite won the medal I would like to have won for her.
“She’s been working as a nurse, giving out vaccines recently, to an extent which makes me so proud of her and for what’s she done for me and my brother over the last quite a few years. I’m really, really happy with what she’s done. She’s the role model in all this, I hope she enjoyed watching that.”
The swim brought to an end Wilby’s individual swims in Tokyo, with a decision still to be made over whether he will feature for GB in their medley relay heats if the team want to preserve Adam Peaty for the final.
Whether he swims again or not, though, Wilby knows he still has a role to do while in Japan
He added: “If that’s my last swim here at the Games, I have a job to do supporting others. There are some people coming up who I train with and am very close with.
“I want to be there to help wherever I can with them. If I get a chance to swim again, I’ll be there and I’ll be ready to put this behind me and move on and put in a good effort for the team.
“I am a big believer in it being a team sport and that means my attitude and mannerisms affect other people – staff and swimmers.
“I don’t want to be the 0.01 per cent that drains them. I take as much pride in my own swimming as I do in contributing that 0.01 per cent to anyone else’s journey. I am gutted to individually leave the Olympics with ‘nothing to show for it’, as they might say, no medal, but there are still more medals to be won in the team.
“I can’t switch off and no-one else is going to switch off. That’s the way we keep pushing in this family that we’ve got going.”
There was similar disappointment on the water where Helen Glover ruled out another rowing return after an agonising fourth place.
The defending women’s pair champion finished just outside the medals with Polly Swann as New Zealand took the title ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee and Canada.
Glover, who won in 2012 and 2016, only returned to training in March, 2020 following four years away after starting a family and insisted she does not expect to make another comeback.
She said: “Well do you know what, in Rio I said it was my last one. This time I’m saying that it definitely is and everyone around me keeps saying ‘No, no, you’ll be back doing the single!’.
“I definitely don’t see myself doing the single. That’s definitely not in the pipeline. I never think beyond the finish line so for me I’m just looking forward to getting home and having some downtime.”
Glover, who had son Logan with TV presenter Steve Backshall in 2019 and twins Kit and Willow in January, 2020, believes her and Swann have completed something special.
She said: “For both of us this has felt more like a journey than anything we’ve done. You can never say that a place in the final isn’t exciting.
“The last year for both of us is one we’re going to look back and I think when you’re caught up in the moment of it and the day-to-day grind of only having one year, it feels so immediate.
“I’ll come to look back in a few years and think, ‘how did I do that?’ ‘What was that year about?’. Everyone will remember the year of the pandemic for their own reasons and I will think that was the thing that took me to another Olympics and that’s bonkers.
“Whether they [her children] remember it or not they were there from the very first strokes of this journey and, in my mind, to the very last strokes.”
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