The Scottish Mail on Sunday
It doesn’t feel like an Olympics
Peaty wishes fans were here and no wonder... because he is unstoppable
IT had been an ordinary first day for Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics but by the time Adam Peaty had climbed out of the pool, it felt a lot better. Peaty’s brilliance, his utter dominance, is transformative like that. Fortunes ebb and flow for other athletes but Peaty always touches the wall first.
Peaty is so good that when he doesn’t break his own world record again it feels like an anti-climax. But he began his defence of his Olympic men’s 100m breaststroke title by swimming the eighth fastest time in history and topping the time sheets ahead of the semi-finals.
Peaty talked of the need to brush off cobwebs after his heat but his performance spruced up a day when former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas crashed in the men’s road race and none of his team-mates finished in the medals, Heather Watson lost in the first round of the women’s singles at the Ariake Tennis Park and rower Helen Glover lost her first race for 10 years, finishing third with Polly Swann in the heats for the women’s pair.
Peaty tends not to do off days. He has not lost a 100m breaststroke race in seven years. He has won his event at the last three World Championships, as well as the Rio Olympics, has broken the world record five times in five years, and swum the 16 fastest times in history, four of them this spring and summer.
Many have said Peaty is so far clear of the field he is competing against himself but if he has a rival, it is Arno Kamminga, the only other man to have swum under 58secs. And the Dutchman sounded a faint warning in heat six when he swam a new personal best of 57.80secs.
That means he has finally got within a second of Peaty’s world record of 56.88. But even though Kamminga punched the air when he saw his time flash up, Peaty still swam more than a quarter of a second quicker in the next heat.
Providing he negotiates his semifinal early today, he will remain hot favourite to clinch a second straight Olympic gold tomorrow morning.
That would make him the first swimmer from this country to successfully defend an Olympic title and if Peaty seemed slightly flat after he eased to a comfortable win in the seventh heat of seven in the Aquatics Centre at the Tatsumino-Mori Seaside Park, he attributed it to the lack of a crowd.
Peaty thrives off the adrenaline of competing in front of fans and even though team-mates and support staff dotted the lower tiers of this handsome arena and did their best to provide raucous encouragement, the emptiness of the stadia at these Games already feels like a constant reproach. ‘Really weird with no crowd, really weird,’ Peaty said. ‘But that’s the psychological things we need to adapt to. I had no idea how it was going to feel out there. I’m glad the cobwebs are out.
‘It’s weird with no crowd. It doesn’t feel like an Olympics. It’s not the same. But obviously when you go back to the Village, that’s when it does. So it’s about controlling all of those emotions and performing when it matters. Heats are heats. I always have cobwebs — it’s pretty much the exact same time I did in Rio — and I’ll build on that. I was a bit shaky off the start but there are a lot of variables when it comes to an Olympics. You try and control as many as you can but there are some you can’t control.
‘We were very delayed tonight. It’s very hot. But that’s how we adapt into the semis and hopefully adapt into the final.’
Peaty is swimming against history, not just Kamminga. There is a proud tradition of British success in the men’s breaststroke. David Wilkie, Duncan Goodhew and Adrian Moorhouse all won gold in it but none of them retained their title at the next Olympics and that is one of achievements Peaty has set his sights on.
Another is to lower his own world record. It is two years old and there is a feeling within his camp that he may be reaching the end of the period when shaving more and more time off it is within his grasp. He is 26 and he pushes himself to the limit in training, swimming 10,000m a day. Peaty refers to his regimen as a ‘constant cycle of suffering’. There is only so much punishment a body can take.
Maybe Kamminga will start to push him. Maybe that will drive Peaty on. The Dutchman is still a long way behind but these heats suggested he is getting closer. His own reaction to seeing his time suggested he felt that, too. Not that Peaty will be intimidated.
Peaty compared his psyche recently to Mike Tyson. ‘Tyson said: “The closer and closer I get to the ring, the more I become a god”,’ Peaty said. ‘I know what that means. When I’m preparing for the Olympics I’m very chilled because preparations are going well. But every day I get closer and closer, the more confidence I get. In sport you need that aggression.
‘I obviously don’t have to knock someone out to win but it’s still going to be a scrap that involves technique, strategy and power. But, basically, it’s a fight in the pool. So the closer I get to that call room and the closer to that block, the more I’m free. That’s when I feel I’m a god in the sense I’ve got full capability to do what I want.’
Peaty will get faster here. Maybe Kamminga will, too, although he may be close to his limit. Peaty is not. ‘I’m not going to say gold is already mine,’ he said on arrival. ‘I’m not an arrogant person. I’d just say that other people are going to have to fight extremely hard to get anywhere near it.’
Kamminga has been warned.