The 27-year-old was beaten only by Australia’s Jessica Fox as women’s C1 made its debut at the Games.
Mallory Franklin had found contentment even before she achieved the best result for a British woman in Olympic canoe slalom history by taking silver in the C1 class.
The 27-year-old is a former world champion and multiple medallist at all levels but had been denied a shot at Olympic glory before the category was included for the first time here.
And Franklin took her chance superbly, posting a brilliant run and then watching all her rivals fail to overtake her until hot favourite Jessica Fox took to the water last.
The Australian widely considered the best individual female paddler, had never managed an Olympic gold but she did not put a foot wrong, beating Franklin’s time by more than three and a half seconds.
Helen Reeves, who took bronze in the K1 in Athens in 2004, was Britain’s only previous female Olympic medallist.
Franklin had a sense of what was coming, saying: “It’s Jess, you’ve got to have an understanding that she’s quite likely to be able to do some really good paddling.
“I just knew when she was starting to build a run and taking little chunks out, she was always going to put it together. She’s a phenomenal paddler. I’ve come second to her many times, I’m pretty used to it.
“It’s really cool for all of us to be producing that level of paddling. It was one of the best podiums we’ve seen so far in this race.”
Franklin, from Windsor had qualified fastest from the heats but a mistake on an upstream gate during the semi-final saw her through to the final in sixth.
She was smooth and fast from the start when it really counted, with her only mistake coming when she picked up a two-second penalty for hitting gate 15.
Franklin said of her medal: “It’s crazy. I don’t think it’s sunk in. I don’t know when it will sink in. Probably about five months knowing me.
“It’s really cool to know all the hard work and all the stress, all the learning and tears, and a week ago when I was crying my eyes out, all of that builds to something where I know who I am, how I want to be, and just be able to sit on that start-line and just go and enjoy my paddling and be calm in who I am and it doesn’t matter if I came down and it all went terribly, it doesn’t change who I am.
“That freedom that it gives me allows me to produce good runs.”
Franklin has battled to overcome performance anxiety, which resurfaced last week, but, sitting in the start gate, she was able to relax and enjoy the moment.
“I had a little meltdown but bounced back,” she said. “I’m really proud of myself.
“I could have been on that start-line stressed out of my head but I just wanted to enjoy the fact I was sat there, there was a camera panning round me, and I was just like ‘That’s really crazy to think other people are sat watching me and I want to enjoy that moment’.”
Franklin also took comfort from realising even the biggest sporting stars experience similar doubts.
“They are just people who are worried about whether they’re going to be able to perform, a little bit stressed by that, feeling the pressure a bit but also just wanting to be able to bring them back to themselves.”
Fox comes from a canoeing dynasty, with her parents both having competed in the Olympics – her father Richard for Britain in Barcelona in 1992 and mother Myriam for France in Atlanta.
Myriam is also her coach and was given a celebratory dunk in the water, while Richard was commentating for Australian TV.
Fox, 27, had won two bronze medals and one silver across three Olympics in the K1 class, so this was the realisation of a family dream.
She said: “My parents have been amazing role models, amazing inspirations, amazing support to me. To win today, it’s a win for them, it’s a win for our whole family, and I’m thrilled to be able to do it in C1 and share it with Mallory and (bronze medallist) Andrea (Herzog) and all the women who competed for the first time here in Tokyo.”