Adam Peaty with Gold medal at Rio 2016 ()Adam Peaty with Gold medal at Rio 2016 () © Copyright

Adam Peaty: "I want to be unmatched"

Adam Peaty won gold and broke a world record on day 2 at Rio. Here's what happened when we caught up with the GB swimming phenom...

Adam Peaty is a commanding presence. When he enters the London Aquatic Centre for Arena’s latest swimsuit launch, the excitement in the room is palpable. This barrel-chested 21-year-old lad is 6ft 3in, and one of the most exciting swimmers this country has ever produced. An eight-time European and three-time world champion, in 2015 he also became the first swimmer to win 50m and 100m breaststroke gold at the same world champs. He now holds the world record in both (as well as the relay).

There is no let-up for Peaty, though. “No matter how well I do when I race, I get back in the pool the next day,” he tells FS, “and all I want to do is chase self improvement. If I don’t get that self improvement, I’m disappointed, and I want to continue until I get it right. I want to be unstoppable, I don’t want anyone to get near me, and I want to be unmatched.”

When he talks, his insatiable hunger and determination is infectious. It is clear he will stop at nothing to get more gold around his neck in Rio. But what about the expectation that comes with being number one?

“A few days ago, I read that one of my competitors said I’d be carrying all the pressure, being the world champion,” says Peaty, shrugging. “You can buy into the hype and let it break you, or you can focus on what needs to be done. Just because other people are saying these things, doesn’t mean I’m going to get ahead of myself. The whole reason I’ve been so successful is because I’m good at keeping grounded, and I’m not going to change that now.”

Peaty is part of Team GB’s 26-strong swim squad going to Rio. It may be his first time competing in the Olympic Games but he talks like a veteran, and has a clear plan. He’s training harder than before, he’s mentally prepared for anything that gets thrown at him, and far from being cautiously optimistic, nothing but complete domination of his sport will do.

Adam Peaty competing in Rio 2016 Olympics ()

 

In the head

Going back to that issue of pressure, which can make and break athletes on the biggest stage, Peaty seems to take it as something of a compliment. “People have been questioning whether I can cope with the pressure after my success last year, but to be honest, I’d say it actually works the opposite way. It gives me more confidence,” he insists. “Being world record holder means no one has been able to get near me and I’m the fastest, so why wouldn’t I go into Rio feeling like I can do it? The thought of winning at the Olympics and capping all this past success off has kept me motivated for a long while now, and I have gotten into this mindset where nothing can really distract me from my goals. I want to win, and there is no point if I don’t.

“I know that the more I do, the faster I get, so even now, I just want to whack out each hard set, relax doing stuff I love, then go back to try again and hammer out a faster time.”

Peaty’s dedication and mentality towards winning may sound extreme at times but he credits his ability to instantaneously switch off as a reason for his success. “It’s literally on/off for me,” he explains. “I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and it started as quite a natural thing at first, but I’ve also had to fine tune and work on it as pressure and time progresses. I’ve done a lot of work with my coach about the psychology behind it.”

Adam Peaty underwater shot ()

 

Drinking in a field

Peaty hasn’t always been a single-minded training zealot hell-bent on world domination. Rewind back to London 2012, and he was like any other 17-year-old. He liked swimming, but he also liked drinking and partying with his friends in his downtime. It was a moment during those Games that lit a spark inside him.

“I was going to go lark about with my friends and drink in a field, and I looked up my phone for results. I saw Craig Benson, who is the same age as me, competing for Team GB in my event,” he says. “That was a massive wake-up call. I remember thinking ‘what am I doing with my life?’. I watched all the races and promised myself I’d get my head down and make the next Olympics. So I guess I have Craig to thank for kick-starting all of this off.”

Peaty dropped out of education and committed to a full-time training regime. In his breakthrough season, he won two gold medals at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, beating then-world record holder and Olympic champ Cameron van der Burgh in the 100m breaststroke. “That was a huge confidence boost for me because Van der Burgh was my idol, and I had studied him for a while, then I beat him so that pushed me on more,” he says. Two days later, van der Burgh exacted revenge by beating Peaty by 0.02 seconds in the 50m final. It was the start of a fantastic rivalry, and Peaty was hooked. “I got addicted to winning and that feel-good feeling. I just wanted more and more after that: I guess it’s probably why I’m standing here now, and how I keep winning.”

Adam Peaty celebrates winning olympic gold Rio 2016 ()

 

Beating up the world

So what’s it like to know you’re the fastest there has ever been? “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted [to break world records], and you’re hitting those kinds of times in practice, but doing it in a comp is different. It’s like, ‘wow, I’ve done it’, and maybe you think it’s a fluke, but the more you do it, the confidence goes up,” he says. And now he has fulfilled his childhood dream, it doesn’t stop there.

“My mindset now is if I am going to win, I want to break records doing it, and I know that I can,” he says. “Not only that, I want to go back and break my own records over and over again, and make it impossible for anyone to catch them. That’s my aim, and once that stops being my aim, there will be no point anymore.” Five-time Olympian Mark Foster recently likened him to Michael Phelps, the swimming OG who has won 18 gold medals from his four Games so far. “I want to be a legend in my event,” says Peaty. “That’s no secret, and it’s nice that others are supporting me and saying I can do it. As a rule, I don’t like buying into the hype of what people say about me positively or negatively but yeah, it’s all been pretty good so far.”

Adam Peaty outside pool ()

 

Training

You don’t get to crunch records without serious dedication and sacrifice. Most mornings, Peaty wakes at 4am and engages in an intensive pool and gym regime before flopping into bed exhausted at 8.30pm. For most 21-year-olds, living an almost monk-like existence for most of the week would be unthinkable, but it’s a life Peaty relishes. “It sounds like a hard life when you tell people, but I enjoy every second of it really and the pay-off is worth it,” he says. “You do see your mates having a good time going out on the lash but I love what I do and after training I can’t wait to get into it the next day.”

His days are usually split between two pool sessions and one gym session from Monday to Friday, with a half day of training on Saturdays and a full day off on Sunday to aid recovery. “My gym routine is mostly about getting my range going because range is so important to swimmers. If you lose range, you lose power, so we aren’t lifting extremely heavy weights, but we still want to build muscles and keep them topped up,” he says. “We need fuel for our swim sessions, so if we hit the gym too hard, we won’t have enough energy for those. We’ll just do squats, pulls, bench presses, dead lifts and lunges, but alternating between heavy and light weights to keep that range.”

The pool is where the magic happens, though, where he’s able to push himself further than anyone. He does ten pool sessions over the week, slowly building up his speed and endurance. “Monday will be just aerobic to get into the swing of things after a day off, but then Tuesday morning through to Thursday night, I’ll be hammering it away with speed and heartrate up, and Friday night is when I go hell for leather and try to smash myself,” he says. “Saturday morning, I’ll just have a recovery swim in the morning and have the rest of the day off, then Sunday I’ll switch off and do something else I love. That’s really important for us mentally, that we get time doing things outside the sport for motivation. I mean, I could just train and think about training every single waking moment but then again, sometimes you probably can have too much of a good thing,”

Adam Peaty sits on rope to celebrate Rio 2016 ()

 

Life of grime

Peaty loves fast music and fast cars. It amps him up, it calms him down, but most of all it gives him an outlet from all the intensity around him.

“My hobbies keep me busy when I’m not training and it’s been working a treat in the run up to the Olympics,” he says. “As long as I have something to distract me from swimming, then I can cope with all the craziness, intensity and pressure around me.”

His demeanour changes completely when you ask about his love of grime music and Dr Dre and Birmingham artist Jaykae. A different kind of enthusiasm emerges. “Oh man, where to start? I love it – it’s aggressive, it gets me pumped and it gets me going,” he says. “It reminds me of the roar the crowd make when you come out for a final or when you break a record. There is nothing like it, it makes my neck hairs stand up and it just speaks to me.”

Would he ever consider wrecking the mic like he has the hopes of his rivals? “Oh man, yeah, I’d love to do something with it after the Olympics. That would be so amazing. I’m probably not any good at performing or anything but definitely something like producing: I’d be well up for it.” World champion, record breaker and grime MC? Watch this space.

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