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Olympic gold medallist Adam Peaty’s triumphant trip to Rio

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 October 2016

Adam celebrates his Olympic success (Photo: La Presse Gianmattia D'Alberto)

Adam celebrates his Olympic success (Photo: La Presse Gianmattia D'Alberto)


Following his 3am trip to Repton School sports centre, Geoff Ford looks back on the City of Derby swimmer’s triumphant trip to Rio

Adam and his gold medal alongside Cameron Van der Burgh (silver, left) and Cody Miller (bronze)Adam and his gold medal alongside Cameron Van der Burgh (silver, left) and Cody Miller (bronze)

The weight of expectation of the nation rested on Adam Peaty’s young shoulders. Alarm clocks had been set, TVs turned on in the early hours and members of his family, friends and team mates from his swimming club gathered at the Repton School sports centre, where his Olympic dream had been shaped, to witness history being made.

In less than one explosive minute Adam Peaty smashed his own World Record (again) and made the world’s best breaststroke swimmers look very ordinary indeed. The City of Derby Swimming Club star, the lad from Uttoxeter, was Olympic Champion and Great Britain had its first gold medal of Rio 2016. It was the first Olympic gold in the pool for a British male since Adrian Moorhouse’s in 1988.

Adam’s coach, Melanie Marshall (who is Repton School’s swimming coach), had confidently predicted that Adam would do the business, but it was the style and ease with which he did it that took the breath away.

Having already taken gold in the Commonwealth Games and the European and World Championships this was all 21-year-old Adam needed for the full set. He was already the world record holder both for the 100 metres and the non-Olympic distance 50 metres breaststroke, and was consistently beating the reigning Olympic Champion, Cameron Van der Burgh of South Africa.

Coach Mel Marshall gets to wear the gold medal she helped Adam to winCoach Mel Marshall gets to wear the gold medal she helped Adam to win

In the British Championships, back in April 2015, Adam had set a record of 57.92 seconds for the 100 metres, but he lowered this time by almost half a second as he recorded 57.55 seconds in his heat on the first day in Rio. Many swimmers will try and qualify with something in reserve for the semi-final and final, but Adam easily left his rivals behind to qualify 1.36 seconds faster than Japanese swimmer Yasuhiro Koseki in second place. For those who asked how he would deal with the pressure of being such a hot favourite, this was Adam’s resounding answer.

To deliver such a performance on his Olympic debut was phenomenal; showing such confidence was a justification of years of total dedication to his goal. This was the laying down of a marker that must have devastated his rivals.

Remarkably, after such a breathtaking performance, Adam looked calm and relaxed as he checked his time on the scoreboard and gave a casual thumbs-up sign. Climbing from the pool, he dismissed any talk of pressure: ‘Hopefully that will give confidence to the other swimmers. Don’t be afraid of this lot, it’s just swimming. It’s just two lengths, at the end of the day, it’s what you’ve done all your life. Hopefully that will translate to the kids back home, watching. It’s scary, but once you’re in that lane it’s absolutely amazing.’

The Olympics is not just about being the fastest in the pool. Hot favourites have failed to handle the pressure in the past but Adam, having spent his career working towards this moment, took it all in and then, once in the pool, was able to treat it like any other time in the pool and get the job done. It takes great ability to achieve that mindset. Races can be won and lost even before the swimmers get to the water.

‘The Olympics are different from the usual competition. The Olympic village is like a city with food halls and the stadium. You have to manage it very differently, you can’t have any distractions. At the end of the day you just have to swim two lengths as fast as you can, keeping it that simple was what worked for me,’ Adam said.

Mel Marshall must take a lot of the credit for Adam’s strength of character. She will have passed on her experience from Athens in 2004 where, as world number one, she came home empty handed. Becky Adlington, double Olympic gold medal winner in 2008, has also been mentoring Adam. ‘Mel and Becky have both helped me to get my head around these last couple of years. We’re in a very good position now because of their advice, so I’ve thanked them a lot,’ he said.

The swimmers were back in the water in the evening, Rio time, for their semi finals. Koseki won the first heat, his time of 59.23 only fourth fastest as Adam again set the fastest time, just shy of his new World Record in 57.62, but still streets ahead of Cody Miller (USA, 59.05) and Van der Burgh (59.21).

US television rights dictated the time of the major swimming events and the competitors, who are used to early heats and afternoon/evening finals, had to adjust their routines to finals late at night. Adam’s mother and father, Caroline and Mark, had flown to Rio with his girlfriend Anna but with Brazil four hours behind the UK, Adam’s final was just before three in the morning at home. This did not stop around 200 family and friends gathering to watch the final together, on a big screen, in Repton.

The excited chatter ceased as the swimmers emerged, one by one, before a roar greeted Adam, the last to appear. Breaths were held again – the gun, a good start, and the final was on. This was the moment that the whole of Uttoxeter and Adam’s family had been waiting for.

Adam was on the World Record pace for the first 50 metres, the first length, leading by half a length from Van der Burgh and American Cody Miller at the turn, and the pace never faltered, even increasing through the final 10 metres. It was, again, an astonishing performance: 57.13, another World Record with Adam one and a half seconds clear of his closest rival, Cameron Van der Burgh. Adam and Mel were reportedly targeting 57.3, but this was beyond even their expectations. ‘I looked around and thought “No way!”’ said Adam. ‘I looked at my place first and then looked at the times. I still can’t believe it, really. It’s going to be harder to understand in a few weeks, when you start to come down, reality hits. To get our target was a huge achievement, but surpassing that was... I couldn’t think of anything better.’

The roar in the sports hall in Repton was deafening, Adam’s family sat open-mouthed and then turned to hug each other. Some of his supporters had tears in their eyes. In Rio a huge grin spread across Adam’s face as he looked at the result, took the congratulations from Miller and Van der Burgh and then climbed onto the lane rope and lifted his arms in triumph. Job done, Olympic Champion!

‘That was absolutely electric,’ said Adam’s eldest brother Ritchie. ‘It was one of the best things in the world for us. We’ve seen all the hard work and dedication that he’s put in over the years, all the times he had to get up at 4am, perfect!’

Adam’s second brother, James, said he had worked hard for his success. ‘Adam deserves this. It was very exciting. I’m a bit overwhelmed, emotional. I can’t believe it, I don’t think it will ever sink in.’

‘I’m shocked,’ said Adam’s sister Beth. ‘Everyone said he’d beat his world record again and he did! I’m just so, so proud, the proudest big sister ever!’

Jack Stephenson said it was so exciting to see his best friend win Olympic gold. ‘He didn’t beat his record, he smashed his record! He’s like family to us, I’m just so proud. He’s my best mate, just a normal mate, but it’s unreal watching him on TV. I’m getting used to it now, it’s crazy. This has been the best weekend of my life!’

‘He’s done it in style,’ said Adam’s Auntie Sherry. ‘I just can’t take it all in at the moment, but I’m so, so very proud because he’s worked so hard for it. He didn’t get much support from local businesses in the early days, he’s achieved this through pure dedication and talent. All credit to his parents, family and friends and his coach. He wanted this badly, I’m just so proud.’

Out in Rio, his mother’s reaction was ‘Wow! I’m speechless, that’s all I can say! I don’t know whether to cry, I’m ecstatic, I’m so proud of him!’

‘It’s surreal to get Team GB’s first gold,’ said Adam at the poolside. ‘This is the product of seven years of work. I took the first 50 easy and then came back with everything I’ve got. And more importantly, I did it for my country, that means so much to me.’

Not bad for a boy who was afraid of water as a child. Adam was 14 when he joined City of Derby Swimming Club with his friend Jack but when Mel Marshall saw his freestyle, in the slow lane with the younger children, she nearly sent him home. ‘I watched him swim freestyle and thought “Oh my goodness!” Then he swam breaststroke and I knew he had something special.’

Adam’s victory sparked Team GB’s Olympic gold rush and Great Britain’s greatest Olympics away from home. Only a few moments later Jazz Carlin put in a personal best performance to take silver in the Women’s 400 Metres Freestyle.

The national daily newspapers went into overdrive with Adam’s success and Adam’s nan Mavis Williams #OlympicNan was the subject of many column inches. ‘She took full advantage of that,’ Adam laughs, ‘that’s great and she’s still getting flowers and chocolates. It’s awesome to have that support around my nan. When you’re in the village you’re in such a bubble that no one can get in to us and we can’t get out to them so it was great to have all the support back home. Now I realise how much support I had, so I’m really grateful and would like to thank everyone who supported me.’

Back in the pool later in the week, Adam and Great Britain’s 4 x100 metre relay team took the silver medal, giving Great Britain a total of six medals, the best performance in the Olympic pool since 1984.

‘I was a man on a mission,’ said Adam. ‘That split (56.59)was amazing. Some people said I couldn’t swim that fast so, hopefully, that’s a message to the world.’ The USA’s Michael Phelps was impressed by Adam’s performance and added his congratulations. ‘He said it was an awesome swim, and that comment will be treasured for life.’

Adam is already thinking ahead, looking forward to the next few years. He is still young, has yet to reach his peak and has already torn up the record book, so just how fast could he go? ‘When you get so fast it is harder to look for areas where you can improve, so the (speed) curve is going to be affected, but I just love what I do, this is my job – it’s not really a job! – it’s an absolute honour. As long as I’m enjoying it, then who knows, you can achieve anything.

‘Inspiring people is what motivates me, so hopefully we will see a surge in swimming now. That’s the main reason we do it, as Olympians, it’s about giving back to the community and the country and inspiring normal people doing their jobs. It’s so important that we get a 50 metre pool now in the city of Derby. If it goes through, the next generation of swimmers will benefit. It’s all about legacy now, and we’re looking at future Olympians.’


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