By David Rieder.
Adam Peaty’s World title in the men’s 100 breast was expected. Ben Proud’s gold in the 50 fly, not so much.
After those two golden moments, British men posted the top two seeds in the men’s 200 free semi-finals. James Guy, who qualified second for the final, entered as the defending World Champion, but top qualifier Duncan Scott did not even swim the 200 free at the 2016 Olympics.
On night two in Budapest, the four key members of British Swimming’s young male core—all between 20 and 22 years old—made their mark.
Peaty started things off in his signature 100 breast, and if anything was surprising about his race, it was that he didn’t win by an even greater margin. Peaty’s time of 57.47 was the second-best mark in history, just three tenths off his world record of 57.13 from the Olympics.
After becoming the first man to ever break 57 in 2015 and then twice breaking the world record on his way to Olympic gold, Peaty was not the least bit disappointed that he was a little bit short of his best in Budapest. In his long-term quest to crack 57 seconds, this race was a step in the right direction.
“I’m still 1.5 seconds ahead of the rest of the world. I’m very happy with that,” Peaty said. “It’s not the time—it’s the way I did it. It’s the 26.5 that looks promising to me. Not many people can go out in 26.5 and come back. Nobody but me has been under 26.6 in the 50. The way I swam it is very encouraging for the future.”
Then came the 50 fly. Proud arrived in Budapest seeded third in the event, and he qualified fourth for the final, 0.16 behind top seed Caeleb Dressel. But when Dressel made a mistake on his breath, Proud took advantage.
Proud touched out Nicholas Santos, 22.75 to 22.79. Andrii Govorov, Dressel and Joseph Schooling were all within two tenths. But the touch had gone the way of the Brit.
“It took me a while to realize I’d won. I was shocked at first but it’s a dream come true,” Proud said of the win. “It’s something I have dreamed off ever since I started swimming. It’s the reason I did start swimming. It’s the reason I moved to the UK. For it to happen today was amazing.
“I was never going to give up on that dream, I was going to keep going until my mid-30s, until I was the 50 fly World champion, so for it to happen at my third World Champs, it’s a true blessing.”
As for the 200 free, Guy was a consensus pick for a medal, but Scott? His 100 free has recently been stellar—earlier this year, he became the first British man to crack 48 seconds, and he arrived in Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in that event—but Scott insists that the 200 has always been his forte.
“I’ve always been a 200 swimmer,” Scott said. “I had that (100 free) individual swim in Rio last year, so that became slightly more of the focus. In 2014, I broke onto that Scottish team, and in 2015 in Kazan, it’s always been the 200 free in that perspective of things, and that’s what I train for, so I’m delighted that it’s come through.”
Now, that British one-two punch will take on the first final of day three with a chance at two medals and perhaps even another gold—and yes, that would mean three consecutive men’s races with a Brit standing atop the podium.
And the medal chances don’t dry up after that. Peaty will return to the water for the 50 breast over the next two days, and he is the overwhelming gold-medal favorite in that. Scott will be a medal threat in the 100 free as well, and Proud is still ranked No. 1 in the world this year in the 50 free.
The British men’s 800 free relay upset the U.S. men two years ago in Kazan and certainly could do so again in Budapest with Guy and Scott firing on all cylinders and the American mid-distance freestylers, aside from Townley Haas, struggling through the first two days of the meet.
Both the men’s and mixed medley relays will be serious medal threats. For the mixed relay, Peaty will handle the breaststroke leg, while Scott swims the free and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor the fly, and Kathleen Dawson looks like a weapon on the backstroke leg after she qualified for the final in the women’s 100 back.
The men’s medley relay will suffer from the lack of a quality backstroker—Britain did not even enter a man in the individual 100 back—but Peaty’s breaststroke dominance could put the team into the lead at the halfway point, and Guy can provide a strong fly leg to give Scott a chance on the anchor.
This British men’s team is not blessed with much depth beyond its stars, but it was clear even before the meet that it had the quality pieces to make a major impact on the medal table in Budapest. That came to fruition on day two, and plenty of chances remain to carry that momentum over the six more days.