Picture by 2018 Getty Images

How breaststroke king Adam Peaty has redefined dominance

After securing the top 20 fastest 100m breaststroke times ever, we take a look at Peaty’s path to swimming greatness, the secrets to his consistency, and why history shows that he will likely go even faster at the Tokyo Olympics.
By Andrew Binner

There are several ways in which you can be dominant as an Olympian.

Michael Phelps has won most Olympic gold medals ever. Rowing legend Steve Redgrave is the only man to have won titles in five consecutive Olympics as an endurance athlete. Usain Bolt was so good at sprinting, he would often celebrate 10m out from the finish line. From 1928 to 1956, India won six straight Olympic golds in men's field hockey. Nadia Comaneci did the unthinkable at the Montreal 1976 Olympics when she secured gymnastics’ first ever perfect 10. How do you top perfection?

But this week at the British Swimming Selection Trials, swimmer Adam Peaty created a new barometer of dominance.

Having already qualified his place at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, one might have thought that the reigning 100m breaststroke Olympic champion would just go through the motions at the London Aquatics Centre.

But Peaty only has one gear, and he exploded out of the blocks to set the fifth fastest time in the event ever, in 57.39. That performance also secured him the top 20 fastest times in the 100m breaststroke ever.

Record-breaking history

Peaty's top-20 moment came almost exactly six years after he first broke the 100m breaststroke world record at the 2015 British Championships.

The Uttoxeter man’s 57.92 that day smashed the old mark by almost half a second, and it was also the first time any man had gone under the significant 58-second barrier for the event.

The question was, had Peaty peaked to soon before the Rio 2016 Olympics? A new 100m breaststroke world record of 57.55 in the prelims in Brazil soon put that question to bed. He then went onto break that mark again in the final as he won gold with a time of 57.13.

Today, 15 of Peaty’s top-20 efforts under the 58s barrier.

“You’re basically going to somewhere no one on the planet has been before, so you need to have something a little bit different about you,” Peaty told Olympic Channel before the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju. “You need a different energy, a different focus.”

A few weeks later, that focus delivered him the current 100m breaststroke world record of 56.88. That also meant that he had become the first man to swim under 57 seconds, before anybody else had ever swam under 58 seconds.

He is also the current 50m breaststroke (25.95) and 100m breaststroke short course (55.41) world record holder.

“I want to set a legacy and hopefully that will stand the test of time.”

Peaty attributes much of his success to mindset.

While many Olympic athletes plan to peak during the Olympics, and are subsequently not quite so concerned about their results in between, the Brit has an entirely different take.

Given the fine margins that exist in sprint swimming, and his rivals’ desperation to score any kind of win over the GOAT, Peaty goes as hard as he can, every time. He simply wants to squash any ray of hope a rival may have of potentially beating him.

“Let everyone talk,” he continued to Olympic Channel. “What I’ve realised in the last few years is that sport isn’t against anyone else, it’s what you can do in your mind.

“Courage, integrity, belief - that’s what I’ve got tattooed on my inner forearm. They are my three staples of life that I go by.

“Once you can control your inner energy, you really know how to unload that energy into a race.

“When I have fun and when I’m focused, and when I’ve got passion, and when I’m a little bit angry, that’s when I become the best version of myself.”

Even when he retires, he wants to keep trumping his rivals.

“I want to set a legacy and hopefully that will stand the test of time.”

Another world record to come in Tokyo?

Peaty’s 57.39 at the 2021 British Selection Trials last week is well ahead of the 58.41 he recorded in the British trials before the Rio 2016 Games, where he went on to set the then world record of 57.13.

This suggests he will deliver another astonishing time at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

In the post-race interview this week, Peaty acknowledged that he is way ahead of where he should be right now, and that he’s excited to ‘show the world that Great Britain is a force to be reckoned with’.

“There are always ways to get faster,” he added. “Today there were no crowds, so it was a bit tougher. But that is a mental game and I still got to exactly where I needed to be. It’s two lengths of the pools. A lot of people overcomplicate it.”

The 26-year-old also admitted that the birth of his son, George, in September had made him even more determined to become the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title.

"Every day he gets older, every day you get more motivated...it's great to be a father and hopefully be an inspiration to him when he grows up."

Watch out world, it doesn’t sound like the top-30 times ever record is far off!