By Andy Baber in Birmingham
Adam Peaty questioned whether he still loves swimming after responding to his 100m breaststroke heartbreak by easing through his 50m heat at the Commonwealth Games.
The reigning Olympic champion and world record holder finished outside the medal positions in his favoured event, where he had not lost in eight years, in Birmingham last night as fellow countryman James Wilby took a surprise gold.
But after what he admitted was a “devastating night”, Peaty bounced back to finish joint-top in his 50m breaststroke heat alongside South African Michael Houlie.
The three-time Commonwealth champion touched the wall in 27.10 seconds to progress before revealing that he only had a couple of hours sleep following a lot of soul-searching.
“The last two years have been really complicated, just because of various things. Going into an Olympics, having all that pressure coming off and then paying off,” said Peaty.
“I haven’t really had a winter block where I’ve re-set, got my aerobic training in and gone, ‘hold on a minute’. I haven’t had a chance to know where I’m going.
“It’s almost like you get in the car without a destination. I came back in this year in January and went let’s get back up to full speed and then I got flu before trials.
“I only raced two times before these championships and then it just exposes you. That’s the training aspect and then you’ve got, ‘do I love the sport as much as I did?’ I don’t know.
“So, I’ve got those questions in my mind where I’m like, it’s playing over these two years how I can maximise these next two seasons to potentially maximise what I want to do in Paris.”
A broken foot had ruled Peaty out of the World Championships in Budapest earlier in the summer but having had a night to reflect, he had no excuses for his fourth-place finish.
“I woke up yesterday morning and my whole back was very tight. That happens normally at the start of the season when you’re getting used to that anaerobic training, the sprinting.
“There are no excuses in there, I had a bad night. The better man got me. I just couldn’t sleep last night and obviously when you’re in defence mode, you’re thinking, ‘what’s gone wrong?’
“That’s who I am, I’m always looking about how I get better. That’s just the athlete I am. I didn’t come to these championships to get fourth, I didn’t come to get silver or bronze.
“That’s just who I am. I’ll be lying to say I’d do anything else and that’s why I’m not happy. I had this moment before on the Gold Coast and it have me that hunger for the next two years.
“Maybe it’s God’s will to get me to this point and have this real low because it is a real low. To come back out here this morning, Mel (Marshall, coach) was like, ‘do you want to do it?’
“I’m a fighter. I’m going to turn up, do the race and go through the rounds. I think I just took the 100m a bit too seriously yesterday and this morning I turned up with an hour to go, put my suit on and just sprinted - and found that love again, but maybe because I have nothing to lose.”
Peaty said he will not compete in the relay events at Birmingham 2022, giving Team England a chance to look to the future, with his focus solely on the 50m breaststroke.
“I’m not looking for gold tomorrow,” he said. “I’m just looking for my best possible swim. I’ve been in the water for four weeks and I put way too much expectation on myself.
“I’m still debriefing and will still be debriefing over the next three or four weeks. If you back anyone into a corner, if you back a lion into a corner, they are going to bite.
“I’m backed into a corner now but I’m okay with that. I’ve had a very comfortable two years, three years, four years, since 2018 really and my last loss, I’ve been comfortable since then.
“So, I think it’s just as important as an athlete to have these moments. With that success, you come out and think ‘Do I love this? Do I want to be here? I must address those questions.”
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.