From Paul Eddison in Tokyo
How do you relate to Adam Peaty? Now a two-time Olympic champion, the first Brit ever to defend an Olympic swimming title and the most dominant athlete in his sport.
Peaty’s rivals might have closed the gap slightly, but there was no one who could live with him at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as he powered to gold in the 100m breaststroke.
To see him on the lane rope celebrating was to witness a unique physical specimen. Silver-medallist Arno Kamminga gushed that Peaty’s technique is flawless.
For us mere mortals, he feels like he operates on a different plane of existence, blessed with gifts the rest of us are denied.
And yet in the last year, Peaty has gone through the same travails as everyone else, both in terms of Covid restrictions, and more importantly with the challenges of becoming a new father to George-Anderson, born last September.
And when he speaks of that, you remember that this 26-year-old with the giant lion tattoo on his arm, is very human after all.
He said: “It’s been a heavy investment. 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, it was hard, really hard to find that emotion.
“I sleep next to a medallion (in Tokyo), it’s a religious thing, but it’s also a reminder that when you are woken up at 3am next to a baby or a new-born, there are hard moments.
“The first three weeks before I went to compete (in the International Swimming League), I was in bed and he was waking up every two hours for a nappy change, every hour for a feed. I thought ‘This is hard’.
“I knew some parents who said it’s going to be hard and I thought I could do this. But my eyes just got heavier and heavier. I had to get on the plane to the ISL to sleep, not even to perform.
“I’ve hidden a lot of emotion from my own family, a lot of stress and the moments where it’s very hard. That’s why I carry those things. (His partner) Eiri wrote me a letter which I read last night and I thought, this is what it’s about.”
On the day where Katie Ledecky, the American sensation who has was previously untouchable in the sport, was beaten, Peaty ensured a second dynasty would not crumble.
His time of 57.37 was the fifth fastest in history, almost half a second off his world record, but in a different stratosphere to the rest of the field.
And yet the last year has not been easy, there have been moments of doubt.
He added: “There have been so many challenges and some breakdowns as well. What am I doing every single day? Why am I training three times a day? Why am I doing everything for this swim? But I’ll see back home, that’s why we do it. The 99.99% we spend in the dark is for the 0.01% we spend in the light.
“That’s something that me and Mel (Marshall – his coach) have always believed in. that’s why I don’t think anyone deserves it more than me. It’s not an arrogant thing, I just love what I do and I know how powerful sport can be.”
With two Olympic golds and another silver, Peaty is now the most successful British swimmer in more than a century.
But he is not done yet. He will race in the men’s 4x100m medley relay as well as the mixed medley relay, with Britain having a good chance of a medal in both.
The heats for the first of those, the mixed, are on Thursday, so Peaty will have a little time to enjoy this success.
He said: “There’s a lot of emotion in there, I’m probably not going to sleep for a while. I’m so buzzed because I think that’s the first British swimmer to ever defend a title. You can do what you want all year round, you can do what you want in your own arena, your own backyard, it doesn’t mean anything. It means everything here.
“I’m looking forward to the relays and seeing what we can go out and do. I think we can be a very powerful force. But I’m going to enjoy the next 24 hours, have a bit of cake, just a small bit and then we’re back on the train to get the optimum performance.”
A little bit of cake to celebrate success. He really is human after all.
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