By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Adam Peaty is the talk of British swimming as he heads for his first Olympic Games in Rio but at home the discussion is different.
The confident 21-year-old, the 50 and 100 meter breaststroke world record holder who won three golds at last year’s world championships in Russia, has a house rule: No talking about swimming.
“We don’t even mention it in my house,” says the swimmer, who still lives with his proud parents but plans to move out after Rio.
“You don’t want to be working all that time, all day, just to go back and talk about work again… we have a no-go zone on swimming in my house.”
With Peaty tipped to become his country’s first male champion in the Olympic pool since Adrian Moorhouse won the 100m breaststroke in Seoul in 1988, one can imagine the rule has been sorely tested.
At London 2012, the British men took only one medal — a silver for Michael Jamieson in 200m breaststroke. In 2008 in Beijing, when Rebecca Adlington struck gold twice, the only men’s medal was in the open water.
Peaty was not even born the last time a British man triumphed in the Olympic pool, although he has seen the 1988 race on video, and does not feel any particular burden of expectation.
Indeed, as he showed in Kazan where he beat South Africa’s Olympic 100m champion Cameron van der Burgh in both the breaststroke sprints, he thrives on pressure.
“I’m going in as number one but what’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like someone’s holding a gun at the end of the lane. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m just going to give it a good go,” he told reporters.
“I’m going in to my first Olympics whereas people I’m racing are going into their third and fourth and probably last Olympics. So there’s more pressure on them to perform.
“I’ve still got a whole future ahead of me. I am not even the Olympic champ.”
Nobody has swum faster this year than the 58.36 Peaty managed at the European championships in London in May, when he was not fully tapered. He set the world record of 57.92 in the same pool in April 2015.
No other British swimmer has won three golds at a single world championships and heading to Rio he had the top four fastest 100m times in the world to his name.
“My fitness is in the best place it’s ever been and my stroke…just feels so natural at the moment. So hopefully that’s going to improve and sharpen up for Rio,” he said.
There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance, but Peaty’s coach Mel Marshall — who was number one in the world in 200m freestyle before the 2004 Athens Games but came away empty handed — keeps him on the level.
Head coach at the City of Derby swimming club, the two times Olympian saw the promise of the Uttoxeter schoolboy and Peaty recognizes the debt he owes her and the fact they can have “a good laugh” together.
“Seven years ago when I couldn’t drive, she’d drop me off at college after swimming and go through an hour of traffic just to get me to college,” he said.
“That bond was formulated through those journeys, and not many swimmers have that bond. We’d just talk about rubbish…and then sometimes you’d have a good chat about where we’re going and where we’re heading.”
The hope, in Britain at least, is to the top of the podium in Rio.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)