Tokyo 2020: Adam Peaty’s inevitable Olympic gold makes British swimming history

Adam Peaty became the first British swimmer to win Olympic gold at back-to-back Games and there is surely even more to come from the greatest breaststroker in history

Lawrence Ostlere
Monday 26 July 2021 13:30 BST
Adam Peaty celebrates winning 100m breaststroke gold
Adam Peaty celebrates winning 100m breaststroke gold (Getty Images)

The inevitability of Adam Peaty. In one of the best atmospheres in Tokyo so far, the 26-year-old added to his burgeoning legacy as he won the men’s 100m breaststroke final in typically convincing fashion to become the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title, and delivered Britain’s first gold of the Games.

Netherlands’ fast-improving Arno Kamminga won silver and Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi took bronze, with Britain’s James Wilby fifth. They tried but Peaty is inescapable. He took the lead after 50m and when he reached the turn in front it was effectively over – nobody goes past him on the home stretch.

Peaty touched the wall and turned to look at the big screen in hope more than expectation. His winning time of 57.37sec was a slight improvement on his heat and semi-final marks but didn’t threaten his astonishing world record of 56.88 – his goal to go lower will have to wait, for now.

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He smashed the water with both fists in celebration, then sat up on the rope, looked to the ceiling and closed his eyes. His glory is partly the result of a wonderfully freakish body with hyper-extending knee joints and ankles which turn out, enabling him to propel like a reptile. But mostly it is down to hours in the training pool and the gym, and a will to push his body to its outer limits which his coaches and teammates say is simply incomparable. All that work had been worth it, all that expectation had been met, and the relief poured out.

He emerged from the water and broke into a broad grin for the cameras, flexing those muscles of his, which you could just about make out under his 6 per cent body fat if you really squinted. As he posed, the Coldplay song When I Ruled the World boomed out across the loudspeakers.

“It takes an athlete to be the best person on the day,” said Peaty. “It just means the world to me. I thought I had the best preparation but morning finals change everything and threw that out of window.

“I felt the pressure but I needed to put myself on edge. You can do whatever you want in your own pool but when it comes to being out here it’s not about a time. I was racing myself. I wanted it more. I know they are trying to get me but that’s where the training comes in. It’s like the four-minute mile – once one person does it, others do.

“Thanks to the nation for being behind me for five years and my family and my beautiful boy. I knew it was going to take every bit of energy and I’m just so relieved.”

There may not have been fans to roar him on but Peaty arrived in the arena to plenty of sound, with teammates of every nationality packing in either side to create a swathe of colour and noise and a loudspeaker pumping out music to inject some energy into the room.

He walked in with a towel wrapped around his shoulders and a forward stare. He reached his station and then took a moment, just before unzipping his outer layer, to exhale a chest full of air. It was about as close to nervous as Peaty had looked over the past three days. He stepped on to his mark, paused, then reacted to the buzzer as quickly as anyone, diving and coming to the surface close to the front.

The rest – well, everyone knew what was coming. It is a rare to have such a sure thing and Britain should treasure him. At 26 there is still so much more to come, perhaps two more Olympic Games. You suspect he is already thinking about Paris 2024, about reacting to the start, about getting to the turn first. The rest is inevitable.

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