Adam Peaty: Swimming broke me but I’m finding peace in the water now

Adam Peaty speaks to the media after winning the Men's 100 Breaststroke Final during day one of the 2024 British Swimming Championships at the London Aquatics Centre, London
Peaty has eyes on another gold in Paris - PA Wire/Zac Goodwin

For just under 58 seconds in London on Tuesday night, you would have thought that absolutely nothing had changed since the Tokyo Olympics three years ago.

Adam Peaty was demolishing his breaststroke rivals in a time of 57.94secs - the fastest in the world this year - and sending out an ominous message that he can go faster in Paris and potentially even threaten a world record he set some five years ago.

The reality, though, has been rather different.

“We have come through the past three years of hell - I didn’t want to see a pool again - the sport had broken me,” said Peaty, referring to a rollercoaster since his second and third Olympic golds in 2021 that has variously included appearing on Strictly Come Dancing, breaking his foot, losing for the first time in eight years, being diagnosed with ADHD, problems with alcohol, upheaval in his personal life, depression, finding god and falling for Holly Ramsay, the daughter of celebrity chef Gordon.

Oh, and after contemplating retirement “1,000 times”, he is now back on form and eyeing the chance of Olympic immortality by emulating Michael Phelps in becoming only the second swimmer in history to win the same event at three consecutive Games.

Sizeable obstacles remain - not least the Chinese swimmer Qin Haiyang, who has been dominating the 100m event in his absence -  but Peaty’s British Championship win on Tuesday at the London Aquatics Centre would have registered around the breaststroke world.

Not so much for the margin of victory, but a swim under 58 seconds for the first time since Tokyo and the vast improvement from a world championship bronze in January in a time of 59.10sec.

Peaty’s coach, Mel Marshall, will of course be trying to ensure that the 29-year-old reaches his peak exactly 118 days from now and there seems to be confidence that further big improvements are possible. “I’m not fully back, I’ve still got a second,” said Peaty.

Adam Peaty in action during the Men's 100 Breaststroke Final during day one of the 2024 British Swimming Championships at the London Aquatics Centre, London
Peaty's time of 57.94 is the fatest 100m breaststroke in the world this year - PA/Zac Goodwin

For context, his 56.88sec world record, set in 2019, is almost exactly one second quicker again. The more intriguing benchmark for now is the 24-year-old Haiyang, who lowered his personal best last year to 57.64sec, and will himself be expecting further improvement over the course of 12 months.

It is all set up for a mouth-watering showdown in Paris between the Chinese 2023 world champion and Peaty, a defending double Olympic champion who has found new perspective after trying to move beyond wrapping his entire self worth in simply winning.

“A few years ago, I’d have come out of there disappointed,” said Peaty after a win that also confirmed his Olympic place. “I’ve learned to appreciate the moments of greatness for myself. For me, that was a great swim, executed well - but the most promising thing is that I’m finding peace in the water now, instead of anger and just fighting it, and trying to win like that.

“I’m finding a new version of myself which I’m really liking, and I think that’s a version that can do really well at the Olympics.

“This is a real win for my team, my family and myself. I didn’t know what route to go down and so many things got in my way. But now I am waking up each day and enjoying my job. Who knows what the ending is going to be but I am having fun along the way.”

James Wilby, who finished second to Peaty, missed the 59.45sec nomination time by an agonising 0.02 seconds but could still be one of a maximum 30 swimmers nominated by Aquatics GB following the championships’ conclusion on Sunday.