Tokyo: A global pandemic. A new baby. Months without racing in meets. Training in a bubble during the short days and long nights of a damp English winter.
“It’s almost like we were under siege,” Adam Peaty said. “It’s been a heavy investment.”
After 16 months of darkness and doubt, he cashed in as the surest bet at the Olympic pool with a victory in the 100-meter breaststroke on Monday to earn Britain’s first gold of the Tokyo Games.
“That race was mine to lose, everyone knew it,” he said. “I was trying not to think it. I was trying to be as free as I can.”
Peaty won in 57.37 seconds, blowing away the field with the fifth-fastest time in history. He’s the world-record holder and the first man to break both 58 and 57 seconds in his signature event.
He became the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title in the pool, likening it to working hard for five years to earn a promotion.
“You’ve got to prove yourself in 57 seconds,” he said. “I’ve shown time and time again I perform when it matters.”
Peaty climbed on the lane ropes to celebrate and shout. “Probably swearing,” he said, after letting some expletives slip during an exuberant post-race interview with the BBC.
Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands claimed the silver in 58.00, while the bronze went to Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi in 58.33.
Peaty’s superiority is influencing his competition even as he keeps beating his rivals.
“He’s been pushing the breaststroke for years now. He really set a new standard,” Kamminga said of Peaty. “If you really watch his stroke, he’s so perfect in the small details. That’s really pushing me in practice, as well as competition.”
Five years ago in Rio, Peaty lowered his own world record in the heats and again in the final, winning Britain’s first gold medal of those Games.
“You have no fear, you have nothing to lose,” he said. “You just have everything to prove, which is a very easy place to be in.”
Peaty soon went from hunter to hunted, adding world titles in his specialty in 2017 and ’19.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. As the world shut down, the 26-year-old swimmer questioned why he continued to train three times a day and miss time with family and friends in pursuit of another Olympic gold medal.
“There’s been so many challenges and some breakdowns as well,” he said.
Along the way, Peaty bought his first house and became a first-time father to son, George. “He’s probably somewhere (watching) with his two teeth,” he said, smiling.
No longer was life all about himself and his singular pursuits in the pool. Baby George showed no respect for a swimmer’s need for sleep, waking at all hours for diaper changes and feedings.
“I’ve hid a lot,” Peaty said. “I’ve hidden a lot of emotion from my family, I’ve hid a lot of stress.”
He unleashed all of his intensity in the pool, not wanting to waste the moment he’d worked so hard for.
“You can do what you want in your own arena, in your own backyard, it doesn’t mean anything,” Peaty said. “It means everything here. I kept believing and that’s what matters.”