Feature | Swimming

Adam Peaty opens up about his darkest hours 

The British breaststroke GOAT talks about how Rio 2016 success led to a shock loss and a mental spiral, and how he was able to return to his record-breaking best.

By Andrew Binner ·

When Adam Peaty couldn’t find the fun in swimming any more, he knew something serious was wrong.

Just two years on from his crowning moment at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where the Brit broke his own world record en route to winning the 100m breaststroke gold medal, he had become depressed.

‘I was in a place where you don’t find any fun in anything or you don’t really see the point in anything,’ the 25-year-old told Sportsmail.

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The deepest low

Peaty’s spiral was triggered at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, where he was beaten in the 50m breaststroke by South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh.

It was his first loss in four years and he started falling down the same hole fellow swimming Olympic champion Michael Phelps found himself in after experiencing so much success.

“After Rio, you get the post-Olympic blues, but my deepest low was at the end of 2018,” the Staffordshire swimmer continued. “I was the fastest man on the planet, so why was I losing? That doubt creeped up. There wasn’t really that much belief in myself.

“After the Commonwealths, towards the end of the year, I didn’t have any races. And when you involve off-season and you involve partying and drinking, that’s a depressant in itself, so I was doing that a lot. I kind of, not went off the rails, but I didn’t really have that overwhelming motivation to perform at something. And I am a performer, so if I don’t have something to perform at, I completely lose my track.

“I’d love to go out on a Friday night, on a Saturday night with the lads. I did that in 2018, pretty much, from like September to December.”

Getting back on track

But Peaty was not to be beaten.

The double breaststroke world record holder used the down time to reassess his priorities in life, and the result was an even bigger beast in the pool.

“It took a long while to recognise what was important to me and what wasn’t,” Peaty said. “I have found that thankfully now. I know exactly how to treat my body, how to treat my mind, and it’s not by forcing alcohol as much as you can.

“I evolved so much more from that [the Commonwealth Games loss] than I ever would had I won. So I am glad I lost that race. A few months later I broke the world record, so that’s kind of how much it p----- me off.”

Sitting down with Olympic Channel, Peaty explained what his new new life mantra was, and how he made sure that he would stray away from it again.

“What I’ve realised in the last few years is that sport isn’t against anyone else, it’s about what you can do in your head,” Peaty revealed. “Courage, integrity and belief are my three staples of life and what I have tattooed on my forearm.

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Future records and fatherhood

Fast-forward two years from that loss on the Gold Coast and life is looking much rosier for Peaty. After retaining his 50m and 100m world titles at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju and helping the medley relay team to land gold, he is now expecting his first child in September 2020.

During the lockdown, the breaststroke GOAT has also been using an 18ft flume tank in his garden to stay in shape. With ‘Project 56’ – swimming the 100m breaststroke in under 57 seconds – now complete, focus in the pool has shifted towards ‘Project 55’ and retaining his Olympic title.

“You’re basically going somewhere that no one on the planet has ever been before, so you need to have something a bit different, and have something about you,” Peaty continued to Olympic Channel. “You need a different energy and a different focus.

"I want to set a legacy that will hopefully stand the test of time. I’ve never been more driven and I don’t intend to change now.”