It would, admits Kathleen Dawson, have been easy to hang up her goggles after Tokyo 2020.

At those Olympic Games she was swimming in constant pain due to a serious back injury but despite this, became Olympic champion, setting a world record in the process.

That Olympic gold medal, as part of the 4x100m mixed relay team, was the culmination of literally years of blood, sweat and tears and represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

And when you consider the fact that she had achieved all she’d ever strived for despite her injury issues, it’s hardly surprising that retirement seriously crossed her mind.

But walking away from the sport she’d devoted her life to was little more than a fleeting thought for Dawson and despite the obstacles she knew lay ahead of her in terms of regaining fitness, she quickly decided she wasn’t ready to turn her back on swimming just yet.

“After the Tokyo Olympics, with how I was feeling and knowing I had a gold medal and a world record, the thought of calling it a day was definitely there,” the 26-year-old from Kirkcaldy says. 

“But being the competitive athlete that I am, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do – I knew that I wasn’t finished in the sport. 

So there was always motivation after Tokyo because Paris was only three years away, and I think the fact it was three years rather than four helped a lot.”

For quite some time in the aftermath of Tokyo 2020, it looked, to outsiders anyway, somewhat unlikely that Dawson would ever regain her standing as one of the very best backstrokers in the world.

She was out of the water for months and on returning in 2022, was well short of the standards she’d set herself the previous year.

Slowly but surely, however, Dawson began to feel her form creep back and with it, her times began to get faster and faster.

It was, she says, almost exactly a year ago that a real belief that she could return to the British team began engulfing her and the Scot’s self-confidence has been entirely vindicated this week with her inclusion in the 33-strong GB swimming team that will head to the Paris Olympics this summer and which also includes her fellow Scots, Duncan Scott, Katie Shanahan, Keanna MacInnes and Lucy Hope.

The Herald: Kathleen Dawson (L) is one of five Scots in Team GB's swimming squad for Paris 2024. The others, from L-R are Katie Shanahan, Duncan Scott, Lucy Hope and Keanna MacInnesKathleen Dawson (L) is one of five Scots in Team GB's swimming squad for Paris 2024. The others, from L-R are Katie Shanahan, Duncan Scott, Lucy Hope and Keanna MacInnes (Image: Getty)

And despite her career having been so significantly disrupted by this back injury, which was a bulging disk which caused sciatica in both her legs, Dawson has a surprisingly positive attitude about everything she’s endured and believes that, having come out the other side, she’s actually all the better for having overcome her struggles.

“I’m unbelievably proud of myself to be back at this point. It’s been an emotional, turbulent journey over the past few years,” she says.

“Physically, I feel fine now – 100 percent. I didn’t expect to ever be pain-free so it’s such a bonus. 

“I can’t say that, overall, it’s been a bad experience for me. It’s sometimes good to have sabbaticals in your career and I definitely am better off for what’s happened.”

Dawson admits that she doesn’t reminisce on her success in Tokyo as much as she perhaps should. It’s a common trait within athletes to relentlessly look forward rather than reflect on what’s already taken place although she does acknowledge that, occasionally, she allows herself to look back in order to remind herself of just how much she wants to return to the Olympic podium.

What’s particularly tricky for Dawson to come to terms with, however, is that despite being pain-free now, she remains some way off the times she was swimming in Tokyo three years ago.

But with three months remaining until the Opening Ceremony of Paris 2024, there remains enough time for Dawson to step up yet another level from that which she displayed at the British Championships earlier this month.

It would be easy to assume that having already fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming Olympic champion, Dawson heads to Paris devoid of personal goals but in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I don’t think about Tokyo as much as I should but I definitely want to be in that position, on the podium, again,” she says.

“It’s an odd one because even though I had physical issues ahead of Tokyo, I was swimming incredibly well whereas now, I’m not in pain but in terms of the world stage, I’m swimming pretty averagely. I do feel like I’m on that ladder back up, though, and so in Paris, I just need to manage my expectations. 

“I do feel that, with the potential I have, I can return to that level so it’s about where I can get back to in the next three months.

“In terms of personal goals, I want to swim 57 seconds in the 100m backstroke although I don’t know if that’s a possibility for the Games this summer because I obviously have to look at where I’ve come from. And I’d love to be a part of the medley relay again in Paris.”