By Peter Rutherford
GWANGJU, South Korea (Reuters) – Losing is not something Adam Peaty does, or thinks about, very often but even if the Olympic breaststroke champion comes up short at the world swimming championships in South Korea it is unlikely to dent his confidence one little bit.
Unbeaten in the 100 meters at major championships over the last five years, and with the 14 fastest times ever swam in the event, there will be few stronger favorites than the 24-year-old Briton in Gwangju.
Peaty, who also holds the world record in the 50 but suffered his first defeat in four years in the event at last year’s Commonwealth Games, says every race makes him stronger — win or lose.
“I think a lot of athletes fear failure,” he said in a conference call ahead of the championships. “But I’ve failed before, I’ve got beat in the 50 before. I’m not immune to losing, no athlete is immune to losing.”
After winning both the 50 and 100 at the last two world championships, it would be safe to say Peaty has a target on his back but he feels no added burden in being the one to beat.
“The greatest athletes lose and sometimes they come back even stronger so … if I don’t get the best out of me for whatever reason, it’ll just annoy me and make me work 10 times harder.
“I don’t really get caught up with the pressure, I don’t get caught up with this kind of status that I’ve got to uphold.”
While winning has become second nature to Peaty he still trains like he is chasing someone, pushing himself that bit harder to catch a faster, imagined, rival.
“When I’m training I like to train like I’m in second. So when you’re in second obviously you doubt yourself and that’s almost like a key thing to my motivation,” he said.
“And that’s how its always been. It has been like that for the last five years.”
But it is competition time when Peaty comes into his own.
“I think it was Mike Tyson who said, ‘The closer I get to the ring I’m a god’, and that kind of really sticks into the thinking behind what I do,” he said.
“So the closer I get to a world championships, or the closer I get to an Olympics, that’s when my strength really comes mentally and you almost have to turn it off.”
Peaty rarely talks these days about his ‘Project 56’ — his bid to become the first man to break 57 seconds for the 100 — but he is no less determined to get under that “magic 57”, or at least break his own world record of 57.10.
“I know it’s very, very possible but I need to be in the right frame of mind, I need to have the right body, everything has to go almost perfect,” he added.
“But I think I’ve got to the point where even if it doesn’t I can almost get near it.”
With the 50 not on the Olympic program, the Briton had toyed with the idea of swimming the 200 in Tokyo but has since ruled that out to focus on “pushing the boundaries in the 100”.
Peaty also says that while records, medals and titles are important, he needs to keep himself grounded in what made him get into competitive swimming in the first place.
“When you go into a world championships it can get very tense, very hostile,” he said.
“But at the same time I’ve got to remember why I started it, and that was just because I loved racing. I love winning and I don’t want to take that fun out of it.”
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)