When asked to name the people he looks up to in swimming, Adam Peaty is quick to single out Kosuke Kitajima – the “Frog King” who is the only man to have won the 100m breaststroke at successive Olympic Games.
Not only did the Japanese claim the 100m titles at the Olympic Games Athens 2004 and four years later in Beijing, he also won the 200m at both Games, and remains the only man ever to have swept to the breaststroke double double.
Peaty will move on to Kitajima’s shoulder if he repeats his success over 100m at Tokyo 2020, four years after swimming to gold on his Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro. The 24-year-old is unbeaten in senior waters over 100m since winning at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, leaving the competition trailing in his wake.
Peaty plans assault on his titles at World Championships
In July, Peaty will compete at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, where he will attempt to claim a third successive 50m/100m double.
Almost exactly a year to the day later, the swimming competition will start in Kitajima’s hometown of Tokyo, where Peaty will be four years older and more experienced than in Rio, as well as the defending champion. His goals between now and July 2020 are simple.
“I think just defending my titles, as simple as that,” he said. “Attacking my titles. Obviously push on my PBs/world records as well, and enjoy it too. It is a very different approach but nothing I can’t handle, I don’t think. We’ll see: not to get too caught up in all the limelight.”
Ominously for his rivals, he adds: “I am going to be looking to go faster than I have ever gone before in the next 18 months, so how do I mentally do that? I have pretty much clocked on on that: give yourself enough mental rest and then you go for it. And that is exactly what I did in the winter – I gave myself a mental rest and here I am, ready to take on the world.”
Peaty thrives on expectation to triumph on Olympic debut in Rio
When Peaty made his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, he had dominated the pool for two years, rewriting the record books en route to world, European and Commonwealth titles in the 50m and 100m breaststroke.
The then-21-year-old was hot favourite for gold, but while some find the weight of expectation too heavy a burden, Peaty embraced the big occasion at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
He lowered his own world mark in the 100m heats before swimming even faster in the final to win in a new world record time of 57.13, ahead of defending champion Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa, and the United States’ Cody Miller. It was the first gold in the pool for a British man since Adrian Moorhouse won the same event at the Olympic Games Seoul 1988.
Peaty returned to swim the breaststroke leg for Great Britain’s 4x100m medley relay quartet in the fastest split in history at 56.69, prompting open-mouthed amazement from 23-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps, as the Britons claimed silver behind the United States.
Since then Peaty, coached by two-time Olympian Mel Marshall since he was 14, has won two world, four European and one Commonwealth titles, as well as lowering his 50m and 100m world records.
Casting his mind back to August 2016, Peaty replays the race in his mind with the thrill of Olympic gold just as keen more than two-and-a-half years later.
He says: “I don’t remember the first 50 because I was so high on adrenaline, and I came back on the last 50 and I knew. I was like - yes this is what I do, this is for my country, all those people watching back home. I’m going and I’m going now! It gives me a lot of adrenaline just thinking about it.”
Taking it all in after winning Olympic gold
So too was there a deep satisfaction in what he had achieved – the meaning of winning Olympic gold.
“It’s pride for me,” he says. “And almost relief that all the hours of work have paid off. And there is nothing like getting on a lane rope in front of all those people at the pinnacle of the sport and just taking it all in. Close your eyes and take it all in.”
Memories of Rio imprinted on Peaty’s mind
There were many stand-out moments during his Olympic experience in Brazil, among them his first glimpses of the Olympic Aquatics Centre and the Athletes’ Village.
“I remember seeing the pool and everyone was on the pool deck; and I was like: this is my home, this is where I was born to race. I knew in my blood that I was there to race, and I knew I was there to win. It is very different. I wasn’t intimidated by it at all – I knew it was me – it was a great feeling,” he recalled.
“And seeing the Village for the first time because it is completely different to anything you have ever experienced. You have got all the different personalities and all the different athletes – the food hall is absolutely massive.
“It was a very friendly place to be. An amazing, awe-inspiring place to be – especially Team GB House: you were one team and it didn’t matter whether you were a swimmer, athlete or boxer, you were on one team and that is the best thing about it.”
Peaty keeps his eyes on the goal and the gold
Despite all the potential distractions, there was no way Peaty would be diverted from his single-minded objectives.
He recalls: “Oh no. I knew exactly what I was there for, and that was to race. I knew I was there to win, so I didn’t get that distracted by all the gimmicks and everything else. I would stay in my room. Watch movies, TV shows. Music is a massive part – I always have my headphones in pretty much.”
The inspiration of London 2012
Peaty looked on in 2012 as London hosted the Games, and it served to galvanise the young swimmer as the now-retired Cameron van der Burgh won gold in what was then a world record time.
“I got massively inspired by London,” he said. “I still get inspired by the Opening Ceremony now when I listen to it, which I still do sometimes. People talk about legacy and a knock-on effect and was it worth it? And I am like 100 per cent yes, because you can’t put a number or data on how much it motivates someone. Being on the inside is like a bubble – I didn’t really communicate with the outside world, but I know exactly how powerful that is for someone back home.”
Music to Peaty’s ears
Away from the pool, Peaty describes music as his biggest passion and hobby – hip hop, grime, some dance, a bit of 1980s, soul, RnB, Fleetwood Mac and Kendrick Lamar among an eclectic play list.
Treat the Olympics like just another competition
While Peaty is at the pinnacle of the sport, for others Tokyo will be their first Olympic experience, and he offers some advice.
“Have a good group of friends around you – athletes you have known for 10 years. Stick with them, they know exactly what you are like and what they are like. Don’t change anything just because it is the Olympics – it is like any other competition.”
Inspiration, motivation and hard work
And for youngsters who are starting out on their journey?
“To find what inspires you, find what motivates you. Obviously you are not going to get anywhere without the hard work and the graft. Discover how you work hard and what makes you tick. Reward yourself with rest.”
“Full steam ahead,” he finishes.