Around the Swimming World: Adam Peaty Closing in on ‘Project 56’

adam peaty
Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

By David Rieder.

After he won Olympic gold in the 100 breast in Rio, Adam Peaty set his sights on a new mission. He was already one of the transcendent breaststrokers in history, having lowered the world record, previously 58.46, to 57.92 and then to 57.55 and finally to 57.13 on his way to gold. No one was within a second.

By the next year, he was focused on: “How far can the human body go?” The man with a tempo-power breaststroke combination superior to anyone before him called this quest “Project 56.”

“It’s not about racing the best guys in the world for me,” Peaty said at the World Championships in Budapest. “It’s about how far can I take my body? To go 56, you’re going to have to go very, very fast and train very, very hard.”

Saturday in Glasgow at the European Championships, Peaty almost pulled it off. Four months after he showed up at the Commonwealth Games and pulled off a top time of 58.59—at that point, faster than all but one other man in history but more than a second off his best—Peaty’s European title on home soil came in world-record fashion.

adam peaty

Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

The time was 57.00, 13-hundredths quicker than Rio. Peaty now sits 1.46 seconds ahead of anyone else in history. James Wilby, Peaty’s fellow Brit who captured the silver medal in Glasgow, finished in 58.54, which makes him the third-fastest man ever, behind Peaty and Cameron van der Burgh. He got beat by more than a second and a half.

None of this is new. None of this is surprising. And no, 57.13 doesn’t sound all that much different than 57.00, and 13-hundredths is the smallest margin by which Peaty has ever broken the world record in his signature event. That doesn’t make the record any less stunning.

Here’s the difference between this record and the one from the Olympics: Rio was a conclusion, and it was a legitimate question whether the then-21-year-old would ever swim quicker. Now that he has, a 56 is within the length of a fingernail.

A decade ago, Brendan Hansen vs. Kosuke Kitajima was considered the premier rivalry in swimming and perhaps in breaststroke. Both men are long since removed from their days as elite swimmers—in fact, both were on deck at U.S. Nationals last week in new capacities, Kitajima for media and Hansen as a coach.

Hansen’s fastest time in the event was 59.13, the world record from 2006 to 2008. Kitajima’s best was 58.91, swum on his way to Olympic gold in 2008. Neither one is that far off from Wilby’s time, and Hansen’s was much faster than the winning time in the event at Nationals, 59.38.

Peaty is two seconds faster. He’s on another planet—and in 2019 or 2020, he will surely swim a 56. If there were any doubts after his sluggish Commonwealth Games, forget about it.

Wet Take

Kliment Kolesnikov could be the best teenage male swimmer since Michael Phelps.

For now, the 18-year-old Kolesnikov is the first man since Phelps to set a world record as a teenager. (Phelps had set 13 world records before turning 20.) He’s also the first male to set both a world record and a world junior record in the same race, since world junior records did not exist until April 1, 2014. (Katie Ledecky is the only woman to do so.)

If Peaty’s world record from Glasgow was a mild surprise, Kolesnikov’s was a complete stunner. He wasn’t even the favorite to win that race, and he was the youngest man in the field by more than three years. And he became the one to break Liam Tancock’s nine-year-old suit-aided record of 24.04, posting a time of 24.00.

Here’s the craziest part: The 50 back, at least historically, has been the weakest of the three backstroke events for Kolesnikov. He was 17th in that event at last year’s World Championships, his time of 25.25 a world away from his world record of 2018. In the 100, he won a swim-off for first alternate in 53.38. In the 200, he took fourth in 1:55.14.

That 200 time remains the world junior record, while Kolesnikov has already lowered his 100-meter WJR to 52.97. Expect much more in those events this week. Kolesnikov should be considered the heavy favorite for a European title in the 100 back and a co-favorite in the 200, along with countryman and World Champion Evgeny Rylov.

More to come from Kolesnikov, for sure, and not just in 2018. A reminder: He’s 18.

Useless Stats of the Day

The three world records in the past week all ended in .00.

Kathleen Baker’s 100 back world record was 58.00. Peaty’s 100 breast was 57.00. Kolesnikov’s 50 back was 24.00. A very weird coincidence.

Out of 34 individual world records in swimming, five of them were set to an exact second. The others on the list include Paul Biedermann’s 1:42.00 in the men’s 200 free and Ryan Lochte’s 1:54.00 in the men’s 200 IM.

Robert Glinta beats Shane Ryan in the Rose Bowl of European swimming.

On Jan. 1, 2017, USC beat Penn State 52-49 in football—the American version—in the historic Rose Bowl Game. In something of a rematch in the men’s 50 back final at the European Championships, USC swimmer Glinta took silver in 24.55, while Penn State graduate Ryan settled for bronze in 24.64.

Aquatic Stock Watch

UP – Pernille Blume

Photo Courtesy: Foto Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia /Insidefoto

After winning Olympic gold in the 50 free in 2016, Blume failed to medal in the event at last year’s World Championships. She has shown massive improvements this year: 23.92 in June, 23.85 in the European semi-finals and then 23.75 in the final, when she finished one-hundredth behind gold medalist Sarah Sjostrom.

At the Olympics, Blume’s winning time was 24.07. In a 50, she has dropped more than three tenths in two years.

DOWN – Laszlo Cseh

The 32-year-old won silver in the 200 fly at last year’s World Championships, but he is now struggling in his attempts to be the best in his own country. He qualified fifth in the 200 fly prelims at the European Championships, but he found himself locked out of the semi-finals with three younger Hungarians in front of him: 18-year-old Kristof Milak, 21-year-old Tamas Kenderesi and 25-year-old Bence Bizco.

SAME – Mehdy Metella

In 2017, Metella won bronze in the 100 free at the World Championships and finished the year ranked No. 2 in the event at 47.65. So far this year, he’s ranked outside the top-15, and his season best, 48.31, came in qualifying second for the European final of the event. On paper, he’d be considered the heavy gold-medal favorite, but he’s failed to distinguish himself so far.

Impact Race of Tomorrow: Yulia Efimova’s 100 Breast at European Championships

Yulia Efimova won’t face Lilly King head to head this year, so the Russian will be the big favorite in the women’s 100 breast final at the European championships. The race is scheduled to go off at 5:25 p.m. local time Sunday evening in Glasgow.

That’s the middle of the night—1:25 a.m., to be exact—in Tokyo, where King will have just arrived with Team USA for the Pan Pacific Championships. In advance of King’s own 100 breast race Thursday, she will be paying attention. When she gets on the blocks in Tokyo, she will know exactly the mark she has to beat to be the top swimmer in the world for 2018.