Commonwealth Games: James Wilby Pulls Off Upset in 100 Breast; Adam Peaty Falls to Fourth

James Wilby World Trials
James Wilby -- Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr/British Swimming

Commonwealth Games: James Wilby Pulls Off Upset in 100 Breast; Adam Peaty Falls to Fourth

For the first time in Adam Peaty’s lengthy international career, he is not the gold medalist at a major international competition in the 100 breaststroke. Peaty is the two-time Olympic gold medalist, and he owns the world record in the 100 breast, his best time almost a second quicker than any other man in history, but at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, Peaty fell to fourth in the final of his signature event as his English teammate James Wilby stormed through the field to take gold.

Peaty had the top semifinal time at 59.05, and he pulled ahead of the field by the halfway point. He turned in 27.43, just ahead of Aussie Sam Willamson while Wilby was three tenths further back. But on the second length, Peaty was unable to pull away as he has done in so many major finals over the years. Instead, it was Wilby, the silver medalist in this event at the 2019 World Championships, who surged to the front of the field, and he held off a late charge from the world-record holder in the 200 breast, Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook.

Wilby finished in 59.25, while Stubblety-Cook took silver in 59.52 and Williamson got to the wall in 59.82, just four hundredths ahead of Peaty, whose time from semifinals, a mark two seconds off his world record, would have been quick enough for gold. But this moment was about Wilby, and his world-record-holding countryman was quick to acknowledge that. “Absolutely a brilliant swim,” Peaty said. “I’ve been racing him for a very long time, and he is a championship racer.

Wilby was slower than his lifetime-best mark of 58.46 that ranks him tied for seventh all-time and even behind his season-best mark of 58.93 from the World Championships final last month, where he finished fourth, but the time was enough to produce one of the biggest triumphs of his career. The gold medal was Wilby’s second individual top honor at a major meet after he took gold in the 200 breast four years ago on the Gold Coast.

“I knew what I had to do in terms of executing a good race and knew if I did that, it was going to put me in a good position to challenge for a medal at the end,” Wilby said. “I am overwhelmed and amazed at the result. It’s a there-in-the-moment type thing. We all know the results can be different at different times, but tonight I was able to put in the best race that I could, and that got me the top, and I am really proud of that.”

Prior to this final, Peaty had been the dominant force in the 100 breaststroke since 2014. He first broke 1:00 on July 31, 2013, nine years prior to the day, and in early 2014, he finished second behind Ross Murdoch at the British Championships. Since then, Peaty had not lost any race in the event. He won gold in 11 consecutive international long course finals of the 100 breast, spanning two Commonwealth Games, four European Championships, three World Championships and two Olympics. However, Peaty suffered a foot injury during gym training in May that ruled him out of this year’s World Championships, and the recovery period did not leave him enough time to be at his best for the Commonwealth Games.

“I’m always chasing him,” Wilby said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete, and credit where it’s due. He is the fastest breaststroker in the world, and you can’t take that away from him, but just at this moment, I was able to get this little edge on him, and I’m sure he’ll be kicking me in the butt later in the swimming calendar.”

After the race, Peaty suggested that he was concerned about his injury and the recovery process, but he expects the loss to provide some motivation as he sets his sights on 2023 and 2024.

“Almost two seconds slower than I went in Tokyo, so obviously there’s a lot going wrong in terms of my foot or recovery.” Peaty said. “To be honest, I’m not too bothered about it because it’s given me the hunger that I need at that moment. I can instantly feel it now. The sport’s been a bit dry for me lately, and that’s why I took so long off, and obviously out of my control I break my foot. At the end of the day, it was just a bad race, and it’s how we move on from here.”


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10 months ago

Congratulations to James Wilby. He has always had to be Team GB /England’s no. 2 but he is a long time world class breaststroker in his own right.

He is a great racer. He swam his own race. It must have been a crazy moment when he passed Peaty and Wilby showed his pedigree and mental strength by not faltering, and not settling for sitting behind him. It takes courage to overturn the established order like that.