Adam Peaty On World Records, Illegal Dolphin Kicks, Lessons In Defeat And The Warrior Spirit

Adam Peaty (photo: Mike Lewis)
Adam Peaty: Picture Courtesy: Mike Lewis, Arena Bishamon Collection

Adam Peaty stood behind the blocks and stared down his lane at the Duna Arena ahead of the final race of the ISL in Budapest.

Alongside him was Mel Marshall, his coach since he was 14 when he walked through the doors at the City of Derby club and with whom he has reached the Olympic pinnacle.

At 6ft 3ins, Peaty towers over Marshall but he leaned in towards her as she spoke, eyes still on his lane.

She said:

“Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been the last man standing.

“But he’s going to be difficult to beat so use your head and your heart, both of them.”

A little over 26 seconds later – 26.10 to be precise – and the Briton had got his hand to the wall first ahead of Ilya Shymanovich for victory in the skins – knockout races that conclude with two swimmers going head to head.

How much influence did those words from Marshall have? For the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion it’s a balance between the conscious and unconscious, in the moments before and during the race.

He told Swimming World:

“You do take in the external voices and what Mel says but it comes down to you and your inner demons and who you want to be and who you want to become.

“So for me it was just going out there and enjoying it, we don’t really know when the next competition is now.

“Whether that’s short or long-course or the Olympics going ahead, we’ve just got to make sure our preparation now is the best.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Peaty spoke to Swimming World about claiming his 12th and 13th world records, being in the unaccustomed position of not always winning, the dolphin-kick accusations levelled at Shymanovich and the new Arena range which invokes the warrior spirit.

Adam Peaty sets world record 100 breaststroke ISL final Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

Peaty returned home to partner Eiri Munro and baby son George, who was born on 11 September, and after six weeks away, it was a very welcome reunion.

“It was good, really good. He’s developed so much: he’s a lot bigger but he’s also showing characteristics like smiling and laughing so it’s good to come home to that.”

For both Peaty and Munro, it was a steep learning curve albeit one that has delivered valuable lessons with Tokyo 2021 now only eight months hence.

“It was okay: I knew everything at home was good with her and with him so that made it a lot easier, it gave me a lot of peace of mind but I still phoned home an hour a day, every single day.

“I think that’s vital to get the balance right.

“Obviously I’ve got a job to do but I am also still realistically giving as much as I can back home.

“Again it’s different: come Tokyo it will be a completely different challenge – he will have grown, she will have grown as well and got more used to what I do in a sense so it’s taking each day as it comes wherever you are in the world.”

There was precious little time to recover from Budapest, though, with Marshall keen to get her charges back into the pool at the National Centre Loughborough.

It was a shock to the system and an adjustment from the ISL which Caeleb Dressel described as “an amusement park for swimming nerds” and which was populated by world-class athletes.

Not only that but the event – won by Cali Condors ahead of Energy Standard, Peaty’s London Roar and LA Current – was the first competition in several months in a year when the Olympics were postponed as Covid-19 wreaked havoc across the world.

It was Peaty’s first since the Edinburgh International Meet in early March, days before Tokyo 2020 was pushed back a year to July 2021.

The 25-year-old and Marshall used the competition to measure where he’s at and formulated a strategy to get through the first matches before resting and shaving down for the semi and final.

ARENA_2019_DAY_1_CG_0431.tif Adam Peaty, UK 003905

Photo Courtesy: Arena Bishamon Collection

Part of the plan was the targeting of Cameron van der Burgh’s 100m breaststroke world record of 55.61 and so it came to be on Sunday 15 November when he cut 0.12secs from the South African’s record as he stopped the clock at 55.49.

It was 11 years to the day since Van der Burgh had set the mark that stood for so long at the Berlin stop of the 2009 World Cup as the shiny-suit era came to an end.

A week later in the final and Peaty lowered it once more to 55.41, the 13th world record of his career so far.

He said:

“It was always part of the goal: I think Mel always wanted to go 55.3 this season.

“I had a rough first three matches because of fatigue or illness or whatever it was.

“It took me until the semi-finals and I thought you know what? Just throw all that out of the window and start again and go for that race as well as you can.

“On a 100m breaststroke short-course you don’t have to really pace it so I was like use your speed, get round the walls quicker and use that to your advantage.

“They were very close races but that is what I do. I’m an athlete who can win those close races so it’s just very different, short-course, because for me it’s not entirely my strength.

“It is something that is out of my comfort zone and I have to find my different strengths.”

There was also a British record of 25.41 in the 50br in the first round of the skins in the final, 0.16 off the record set by Van der Burgh in Berlin, a time that surprised Peaty, who said:

“I didn’t even expect to get that close to the 50m world record – I’ve only got to find another 0.17 to beat the WR and for me – someone who notoriously has not got a good start – I think that is a very good thing.”

Van der Burgh – the 2012 100br Olympic champion – responded to Peaty replacing him in the record books with congratulations which prompted an interaction of deep mutual respect between two athletes who have each made history.

Van der Burgh added on social media:

“Humans are AWESOME at breaking the orthodoxy of what is physically possible.”

Peaty has long spoken of pushing beyond all boundaries, being as good as he can possibly be and the best version of himself and seeing where that will take him.

Adam Peaty, UK 003905

Photo Courtesy: Arena Bishamon Collection

He added:

“Of course. That record stood for a long time: it was 11 years. That is what it comes down to really – you’ve got to find a way, or pioneer a way, to get even faster.

“For me as the world record-holder long course I know that swimming on top of the water is my strength, I can beat anyone on top of the water.

“It’s just around the turns and on the dive that I need to clean up, get even better and even faster off that and hopefully putting two and two together will equal a world record.

“When you break a world record you have to be a pioneer because no-one has done it before, no-one has done it that quick.

“Seeing the way he did it – in a shiny suit in Berlin on exactly the same day 11 years ago – it’s a very different kind of sport right now, very different competitive scene now.

“It’s only going to get more competitive and we’ve had Covid as well so we’ve all been starved of competition.”

Peaty Invokes The Warrior Spirit Of Bishamon

On Thursday Arena launched their Bishamon Collection ahead of Tokyo 2021.

One of the Seven Gods of Fortune in Japanese folklore, Bishamon – or Bishamonten – is an armour-clad warrior god, a guardian deity who protects and brings divine favour in battle.

So too is Peaty the gladiator in the arena, a soldier leading from the front.

Adam Peaty (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

He said:

“When you think of a fighter and you think of any aggression, you do think of destruction but for me in this sense it’s almost like a freedom when you go into battle because it gives you an opportunity to expel that aggression and that opportunity to be you.

“That is my massive personality and everyone knows it: I’m quite an aggressive racer and I’ll use my aggression.

“For example in the skins I’ll get on the block and start having a word with myself and that will propel me all the way down to the last round of skins.”

He added:

“I think you’ve got to have the best equipment to get the job done and have trust in that equipment.

“For me, you do have your highs and lows and you do have those moments where you lose or you win but in reality as long as you stay true and keep that effort in there and hopefully keep progressing that is all that matters.

“I love the new range, I love what it stands for because it shows that as athletes and as people we are not all perfect but eventually we’ll get there and everyone has the fight in them.”

Fundamental to development and progress is the ability to apply the lessons learned from experiences, good and bad.

While Peaty set those two world records in Budapest, he also found himself in the unaccustomed position of not always being first to the wall.

Yasuhiro Koseki twice finished ahead of Peaty over 100m while Emre Sakci and Shymanovich also pipped him in the 50m.


Photo Courtesy: Arena Bishamon Collection

He was second in the 200m behind Roar team-mate Kirill Prigoda in match two followed by fourth, fifth and sixth-placed finishes although it is an event he rarely races long-course and has no plans to double up in the future.

Many an athlete has said they learn far more from defeat, something Peaty echoed.

“It’s part and parcel. Sometimes to win and go to places where you need to go, you need to take a loss to motivate you and realise okay, it’s not going my way, how can I get even faster?

“I think losing is just as important as winning, just because of the humility it teaches you and the lessons it teaches you.

“You’re not the fastest right now but how can you get to be the fastest?

“With the ISL and various other people doing fly kicks into turns and in swimming, you’ve got all these external factors in a short-course race which you’ve got to narrow down and go okay, it doesn’t matter what they do and if they want to do that, they do that.

“We’ve just got to stay true to what we do and win.”

Those fly-kicks into turns echoed assertions on social media by Marshall and James Guy that Shymanovich employed illegal dolphin kicks with the former also pointing the finger at Vladimir Morozov.

It was something that was clear to all in Budapest, Peaty included.

“Of course. You see all the tweets and comments – it’s extremely obvious but you know when you get to the Olympics or FINA world champs etc etc you won’t get away with it.

“So it’s a short-term win maybe but I think it’s kind of disgusting really to cheat in any way.

“I can’t see any motivation behind it and why he would do it but that is the world we are in, people are willing to pay that price I guess.”

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