On a sultry night in Brazil the expectant supporters of Team GB finally had every excuse to go nuts.
The first British gold medal of the Games is safely in the bag but Adam Peaty’s storming success in the 100m breaststroke carries far more significance. Not for 28 years has a British male collected Olympic swimming gold, a long watery drought if ever there was one.
And how spectacularly did the dam finally burst, courtesy of another of those buccaneering displays the bullish Peaty now specialises in. He did not so much see off the assembled field in the aquatics centre as swamp them with his sheer class and irresistible power. As he swept into the final 25 metres, his own world record about to obliterated, even the illustrious, sepia-tinted ghosts of Adrian Moorhouse, Duncan Goodhew and David Wilkie were left trailing in his wake. His final time of 57.13 is more than a second quicker than anything he achieved prior to Rio.
Talk about rising to the occasion. Peaty and his coach Mel Marshall had felt 57.3 secs was the fastest he could possibly swim; to go lower was an almost impossible possibility. “Twenty eight years is a very long time...it was always in the back of my mind,” he confirmed, referring to Moorhouse’s 1988 feat. “Going into the actual race I wasn’t even thinking about that; I was so calm and composed. But now I’ve achieved it, it’s an absolute honour. It’s definitely the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
There is certainly something fresh and wonderfully uncomplicated about the turbo-charged 21-year-old from Uttoxeter, particularly at a turbulent time in his sport’s history. For Team GB it hardly be a healthier pick-me-up, a tantalising invitation to others to do likewise. Within minutes, the Welsh swimmer Jazz Carlin had secured silver in the women’s 400m freestyle to make it a truly memorable evening for British swimming. Already there is the promise of a weightier haul than in London four years ago when British won just three medals in the pool – a silver and two bronze. There is a very different feel now.
In Peaty’s case, however, there are strong echoes of Rebecca Adlington’s emotional triumph in Beijing in 2008: a down-to-earth Midlands background, a fearless attitude in the pool, refreshingly honest on dry land. Like Adlington, now a mentor of his, Peaty had a slight phobia about water as a youngster: he apparently used to scream the house down when his parents tried to put him in the bath so they took him the swimming-pool instead. “I didn’t even want to shower when I was younger,” he revealed after the medal ceremony. “That’s how scared I was.”
Famously, he decided to get serious about his sport four years ago when he watched his pal, Craig Benson, racing at the Olympics. Peaty realised it was time to buck up his ideas. With World, European, Commonwealth and now Olympic titles behind him at the age of 21 all that dedication has paid off handsomely. “My family knew how much it meant to me so words weren’t really necessary after the race. You could tell everything from the hug we gave each other. For all these years they’ve believed in me from the start.”
No-one will be more delighted than his 74-year-old grandmother, Mavis Williams, who has been entertaining the Twittersphere in her new role as #OlympicNan. From asking her window-cleaner to put up union flag bunting on her bungalow to suggesting she was “so proud I could burst” Mavis could soon threaten Dame Edna Everage’s status as the world’s most endearing senior citizen.
His nursery manager mum, Caroline, has also been a pivotal figure, having endlessly risen at 4am to drive Peaty to the pool to train – and taken him back in the evening – despite her aversion to driving. Her poolside presence in Brazil was a major achievement in itself, given she had never previously flown or been further than France. As her son put clear water between himself and his nearest pursuer, South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh, the British-accented cheers around the 15,000 capacity venue were impossible to miss.
There was almost as much delight for Carlin, 25, who swam another fine race to finish second behind the inevitable winner, Katie Ledecky of the United States. It was the gutsiest of swims in the most illustrious of company, Ledecky carving another large chunk off her own world record to clock a time of three minutes 56.46 secs. Later in the evening there was also another gold for the uniquely prolific Michael Phelps as the US won the men’s 100m relay.
Elsewhere, James Guy had just enough energy left in a depleted tank to qualify for the final of the 200m freestyle, having earlier revealed he and his room-mate Peaty had struggled to sleep the previous night. The adrenalin and excitement generated by their first Olympic swims kept both men awake and Guy only just squeezed into the final in eighth place, with China’s Sun Yang the fastest swimmer in the semi-finals. There was also a world record time of 55.48 secs in the women’s 100 metre butterfly for Sweden’s dominant Sarah Sjostrom, as well as boos for the controversial Russian Yulia Efimova before and after her 100m breaststroke semi-final.
This article was written by Robert Kitson at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, for theguardian.com on Monday 8th August 2016 06.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010