Adam Peaty was the invincible man – no more.
In eight years the triple Olympic champion had never lost a senior race over 100m breaststroke, but a broken foot and James Wilby combined to break that unbeaten record.
It was in the Commonwealth Games that Peaty announced himself to the world back in 2014, winning his favoured event to start a run that has taken him beyond the reach of mere mortals.
But even Peaty is human and Birmingham 2022 proved the moment where that mortality struck. Fastest over the first 50 metres, it then became clear that the unthinkable would happen as England and Loughborough teammate Wilby chased him down and overhauled him to claim a memorable gold medal – Peaty faded so much that he ended up out of the medals altogether, swimming a time of 59.86, nearly three full seconds of his world record.
While it would have been easy to pull out of the Commonwealths and preserve his perfect record, Peaty is not that kind of athlete.
He said: “I don’t know what went wrong, with 25 to go I had nothing in the tank. Maybe that’s overexposure on the foot, my legs felt good. Sometimes you just have a bad race, I can’t pinpoint where I went wrong. It’s two seconds slower than the Olympics so something has gone wrong in that cycle, whether that’s missing a winter block, having that rest and doing something different. It’s about moving forward from here and getting better.
“I chose to fight, I don’t really care about the stats or how long you’re undefeated. Every time I get on to this box, I’m willing to fight and race anyone in the world. I’ve kind of lost that spark, whether it’s with my foot, but I’ll be looking to find that over the next months and into the next two years.”
That Peaty was beaten by Wilby, so long left in the shadow of his illustrious teammate, will have brought some comfort.
It was a thoroughly deserved moment in the spotlight for Wilby, who came close to jacking it in after struggling at last year’s Olympics. He went through some dark times after that but has come out of the other end and could not hide his elation at Commonwealth glory in home waters.
He said: “I love racing and racing alongside Peaty is always so much fun. I was able to execute my race the best I could. We’re both great racers, we all know what Adam is capable of, we’ll both be back to race each other again and it’s always going to be an exciting one. That one was really fun.”
As for the future, Peaty will race again in the 50m breaststroke, but admits he has no idea whether he will be capable of challenging for the only major title that has eluded him thus far.
And he also made clear that this will be his final Commonwealth Games, the first concrete admittance that there is an end point in sight for Britain’s greatest-ever swimmer.
He added: “We’re always learning and this is a huge moment for me. It’s a part of my career where you choose to go on and keep fighting or whatever. I know this is probably going to be my last Commonwealth Games.”
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