Adam Peaty looked at his gold medal, then turned his eyes to the sky. Equally relieved and cheering, the mighty swimmer had secured his place among all the greatest British Olympians ahead.
Delighted, he slammed his hands through the water. He sat in a lane, as he did in Rio, emotionally but still with the animalistic mask of competitiveness that hadn’t yet given way to the warmer, down-to-earth disposition he saves for when he’s not working.
By winning the 100m breaststroke, the 26-year-old became the first Briton to win two consecutive gold medals in the pool. It was instructive to observe the aura of this master. Before the race, his name was called and he walked in, a towel around his neck.
Adam Peaty has joined the pantheon of great British Olympians after another gold medal
The 100-meter breaststroke star has a place in history after consecutive Olympic gold medals in the pool
At six foot five and a weight of almost pure muscle, a serious expression on his face, tattoos on both arms, he looked as big and fierce as Typhon.
The supporting cast might have gone to the slaughterhouse instead of their blocks. Everyone has been reduced to the rank of a stat in the shadow of the Uttoxeter-born star.
It’s hard to imagine how many athletes Britain has sent to an Olympics who have completely dominated their field for so long. Daley Thompson, the great decathlete who went undefeated from 1978 to 1987, is one of the few. To be mentioned in the same breath as him adds a line to Peaty’s glory.
He is unbeaten in seven years, has broken the world record five times and has swum the 17 fastest times in history. No one is within a second of his personal best.
He has broken the world record through the 58-second barrier. Then to 57 sec. His current world record stands at 56.88sec, but that is not the pinnacle of his ambition.
He’s working on his self-proclaimed ‘Project Immortal’ push for improvement and who can say he won’t hit the wall for the last time with a number starting with 55. And to think only Monday’s runner-up, Arno Kamminga ever exceeded 58sec!
Peaty once again dominated the field to remain king of the pool and take Team GB’s first gold medal
If you put Peaty’s achievements in context, you should praise them more. Adrian Moorhouse swam 1 minute 2.04 seconds to win gold in Seoul 1988. Even in a sport where the ink doesn’t dry on the records, this is a remarkable pace of change brought about by a force of nature.
Other British Olympic legends have set multiple world records, but not many as serially as Peaty. A comparison is Seb Coe, another double gold medal hero, who reached 11 in his career in the summer of 1979, including three in 41 days as a 22-year-old. As with Thompson, it is the largest company to keep.
Peaty is a physical specimen well equipped for his profession, with double-jointed ankles that turn outward and overstretched knees. But it took a phenomenal work ethic to chisel and expand on the gifts nature bestowed upon him.
He has done this, looking mile after mile at a line on the floor and tearing up the gym’s heavy weights. He puts out 8,000 calories a day. “All darkness for a moment of light,” he said of his golden reward for the toil.
As for the pulling, kicking and sliding of his stroke, he is impeccable. As Kamminga, who can verify this claim, said, ‘He is something special. When he’s racing, he’s on a different level because he’s so good technically on his stroke. He makes no mistakes in the competition. It’s perfect.’
As long as he didn’t make a false start, you would have bet on the last flight out of Tokyo that he would win. And he just raced superbly against nothing but his own demands, the clock and the weight of beckoning history.
To be mentioned in the same breath when Daley Thompson (L) and Seb Coe (R) show his class
It was far from his fastest time, 57.37sec, with Kamminga 58 dead. But that was the pattern by the pool. No crowd helps no one, not least Peaty, who stands up for big occasions, just like Thompson did in Excelsis.
There’s also the curse of morning finals, often after late rounds the night before. The early schedule is for NBC in America. He who pays the IOC billions in TV revenue sets the tone.
The timing meant that when Peaty let the f-word slip live on the BBC a minute or two after winning, it was about 3.30am – well after the turning point. Later that day when Sir Steve Redgrave flew champagne corks as he rowed to a fifth gold in Sydney 21 years ago.
Peaty posed for the poolside cameras and bowed to the crowd to acknowledge his victory
So where does Peaty stand in the pantheon? It’s apples and pears. How can you unequivocally say that Redgrave’s quintet is better than Coe’s two gold medals in an individual event of a global sport, and then the blue belt? But for longevity in an attempt at stamina, Redgrave’s performance is hugely impressive.
Others have numerous gold medals, such as Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny (six each) and Sir Bradley Wiggins (five), Sir Ben Ainslie, Sir Matt Pinsent and Laura Kenny (four each). Sir Mo Farah won two serious athletic golds twice, but set just one world record in one hour.
Who can think of an answer? It’s impossible. For now, we’re just celebrating Peaty, who met our almost unbearable expectations here. That’s enough.