Britain's Adam Peaty entered the record books on Monday by defending his 100-meter breaststroke title, and securing Team GB’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.
It was nothing less than an emphatic victory by the world record holder, who finished in a rapid 57.37 seconds, over half a second ahead of silver medalist Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands (58.00) and Italian Nicolo Matinenghi (58.33) at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Peaty, 26, led from the start. By the time he turned at the halfway point, he was already 0.31 seconds in front of Kamminga. When he touched the wall at the finish, he recorded the fifth-fastest time in history and became the first British swimmer to retain an Olympic gold medal in the pool.
As the first man to break both 58 and 57 seconds in breaststroke, Peaty was the favourite. However, that took nothing away from a win that clearly meant a lot to the Olympic champion from the midlands, as he climbed on the lane ropes to celebrate and shout. “Probably swearing,” he said, during a colourful post-race interview with the BBC.
“You’ve got to prove yourself in 57 seconds,” he said. “I’ve shown time and time again, I perform when it matters.”
Undefeated in 100m breaststroke for seven years now, Peaty’s indomitable form is an inspiration to 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.”
In an interview with Sky News, John Plant, Peaty’s former coach at Dove Valley Swimming Club, said that it was his love of competition that really set him apart from the field when he was a youngster.
“When he started with us, he was fairly average,” remembers Plant, “What he had from day one was a love of competition. And that grew and grew. Whether it was club, county, or regional championships, Adam was always fighting for it, and that was his love.”
Five years ago in Rio, Peaty beat his own world record in the heats and again in the final, winning Britain’s first gold medal of those Games, and has since continued to collect world titles in his specialty in 2017 and 2019.
However, the coronavirus pandemic hampered Peaty’s momentum, the effects of which have clearly taken a toll. This gold medal brought with it a sense of relief for the 26-year-old, who admitted that Monday’s win had come at the end of a difficult period.
“The world has been through a tough time. But in the UK, it has been a very difficult journey, no training camps, no racing abroad,” he said, “I’m glad it’s all paid off. There has been a lot of investment into this swim.”
Patey revealed that his toughest struggles have been away from the pool.
“A lot has changed this last year, more than the last five. "Becoming a father, buying my first house and some days when I woke up and was like ‘this is hard, this is really hard’.
During a press conference, he was asked about the difficulties of balancing his family responsibilities with maintaining his performances in the pool.
“Fatherhood gives a different perspective to sport. Before, sport was absolutely everything, 100 per cent. But now, it’s not. If I have a bad training session, I go home, and he knows no different. He can still smile at me, or he can scream his head off, it makes no difference.”
As Peaty’s name continues to be written in headlines across the world, his dominance is likely to continue. On Monday, he showed no signs of slowing down, unleashing 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.”
It marked a memorable day for Team GB in Tokyo. Divers Tom Daley and Matty Lee clinched victory in the 10m synchronised platform event before Tom Pidcock dominated the men's mountain bike race.
Daley won bronze medals at the London and Rio Games. And now at the age of 27, he finally won gold.