The old adage says that behind every successful man is a great woman and for Team GB’s Tokyo gold medallists Adam Peaty and Tom Daley, it definitely rings true, writes Josh Graham.
Peaty, 26, became the first Brit to retain an Olympic swimming title after winning the 100m breaststroke in Japan and diver Daley - in his fourth Olympic Games - took his first gold in the men’s 10m synchronised platform alongside Matty Lee on what was quickly coined Magic Monday.
Peaty’s long-time coach is former swimmer Mel Marshall who has overseen his rise from talented teenager to the most dominant athlete in the sport.
While Daley, 27, and Lee, 23, are coached by the doyenne of diving, Jane Figueiredo, who could be seen embracing the pair after they pipped the Chinese duo to gold by just 1.23 points.
“We don’t often hear the stories of coaches and even less commonly we hear stories of female coaches,” said Katherine Grainger, the chair of UK Sport and Britain’s joint most decorated female Olympian.
“And I think it’s just a really great message for anyone watching, who is either an athlete or interested in coaching, in the roles that people play and who they can be.”
Like he did in Rio, Peaty won Team GB’s first gold medal of the Games by finishing in a time of 57.37, the fifth fastest in history and a cut above the rest while still being half a second off his own world record.
Afterwards, he spoke of the troubles he had overcome in partnership with Marshall, saying: “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 have always believed in. That is why I do not 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.”
Former rower Grainger, who won gold at London 2012 as well as four silvers, highlighted the flexibility of Marshall as a coach charged with continuing to motivate an athlete who had seemingly already won it all.
“After the incredible success in 2016, they really planned out what they wanted to do until 2020, which turned out to be 2021, how to keep him focused and interested,” explained Grainger.
“How to set the goals for him and how life changes, he’s now a father with a family. As a coach you must constantly adapt and change with your athlete.
“If you think you’ve achieved everything you want in 2016, how do you make a four-year plan that will keep your athlete interested and ambitious?”
Grainger points to Peaty’s Project 56, where he set out to and successfully became the first person to go under 57 seconds at the World Aquatics Championships in 2019.
And the more recent Project Immortal, where Peaty - who now holds the 16 fastest times in history in his event - set out his desire to ensure he can never be beaten even once he has hung up his hat and goggles.
“They’ve done brilliant projects and they set shared targets for themselves and the coach’s role through all that is utterly crucial,” explained Grainger.
“So much of sport is the mental side as much as the physical side. They have fun together - it is great when you see them interviewed together because they have this very easy type of relationship.
“They can make fun of each other and joke. There is a lovely atmosphere so that even with the pressure and expectation, it is an environment an athlete can put their belief in and look forward to rather than have concern about the big moment that is coming.
“I think Mel has done an incredible job, she was a phenomenal athlete and she is turning into an equally, if not more, phenomenal coach.”
Grainger can empathise with the emotional rollercoaster ridden by Daley having also waited until her fourth Games to claim gold, and underlined the importance of Figueiredo, who moved to the UK in 2014 to coach him and revealed she banned talk of winning gold in the lead-up to the delayed Games.
“You have such an incredible appreciation of just how tough it is to win the Olympic Games and how rich a reward it is when you finally do,” said Grainger.
“It’s fabulous and that’s such an emotional story. Him and Jane have this incredible relationship, very close and very supportive.
“But not always easy, they’ll say themselves they push each other as hard as anyone would. They have such a tight bond.”
Both coaches generously took time out of their Tokyo preparation to take part in UK Sport’s Female Coaches Leadership Programme, which is funded by The National Lottery. The programme partners up-and-coming coaches with mentors at the top of their game.
“When we saw the numbers of how many few female coaches, we have, especially at Olympic and Paralympic level, it was really striking and it just felt that shouldn’t be the case,” said Grainger, who described the fact Team GB has more female athletes than male for the first time as a ‘big, big milestone’.
“There’s no reason why brilliant women can’t become brilliant coaches and I think the more stories we can tell, the more examples we can give, the more people who will talk about their experience, then more people will hopefully think this is an option I can do and would like to do.”
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