Adam Peaty waltzes into the Salford sun and tends to some urgent business. ‘I’m just run down, I think,’ he says. Time to recalibrate, Peaty explains. So the 26-year-old pinches his nose and sorts his sinuses.
Soon the triple Olympic champion is back on steady ground. His senses are less scrambled. His perspective is much clearer these days, too.
‘I’ve learned over the last two years, especially having a son now,’ Peaty begins. ‘There has to be something different from going through life normally. I think we’ve just shifted eras, post- pandemic. It doesn’t feel like life — do you know what I mean? It just feels different.’
Adam Peaty says he’s ready to get out of his comfort zone by going on Strictly Come Dancing
From the outside, business appeared normal enough. Peaty recently returned from Tokyo, where he made more history and collected three more Olympic medals. He started a record haul for British swimming and his supremacy in the 100metres breaststroke remains undimmed.
Now, though, a new normal beckons. ‘There’s a switch-up in the last 12 to 18 months for me,’ Peaty explains. ‘Why not take a risk? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? That’s the way I live my life now. If it’s literally not going to hurt you, just do it. Even if it is, why not? I like being uncomfortable, I like being out of my comfort zone.’
For nearly six weeks, that has meant staying on dry land. The last time Peaty spent so long out of his natural habitat was after Rio 2016. He struggled with the comedown from winning gold. Defeat at the 2018 Commonwealth Games sent him into a downward spiral, drinking and partying. Soon he will return to the dancefloor — but on a steadier footing.
Britain’s most famous swimmer is ready to have fun after his relentless focus on Tokyo 2020
Peaty now enjoys classical music because he lives his ‘whole life in a state of aggression’
‘It’s really just about having fun now,’ he says. ‘Everyone is shocked at me doing Strictly Come Dancing. Why not? It’s once in a lifetime.’
Peaty took time off after Tokyo to protect his mental health, and even if this jive is short-lived, normal service will not resume for a while. Maybe not ever. This is Peaty 2.0. ‘I’m looking forward to other things in life,’ he says.
Between now and Paris 2024, swimming’s schedule becomes especially punishing. Peaty’s thirst for medals has not wavered.But he would typically eat 8,000 calories a day to fuel a 40-hour week in the pool. Now?
‘I don’t need to push that hard… it’s too much,’ he says. ‘Why not go for a run, why not do gymnastics, why not do yoga? Why not do dancing?’
He cites Michael Phelps and Tokyo team-mate Tom Dean — both triumphed despite prolonged spells out of water. So has Peaty been doing it wrong all this time? ‘Not necessarily wrong, just different,’ he explains. ‘I was training differently, I was a different athlete.’
The Tokyo bubble enclosing athletes hardly hampered Britain’s swimmers. Out of the pool, though, Peaty and Co were forced to adapt.
‘I watched a lot of TV,’ Peaty says. ‘A lot of Ex On The Beach — season three, season four, the golden years!’ Peaty blames room-mate James Guy for their addiction to following singles’ search for love while being ambushed by former flames.
Peaty took time off after Tokyo to protect his mental health, and says he watched a lot of TV
The 26-year-old returned the favour by expanding Guy’s playlist. ‘I got him into hip-hop, to grime. All he used to listen to was Craig David,’ Peaty says. ‘You can’t go out to a race listening to Craig David!’
Guy would draw the line at classical. ‘Music in general is a huge part of my life. It manipulates my mood,’ Peaty says. ‘Where does classical fit in between the heavy rock, RnB and the dance music? It fills that void.
‘But classical just calms me down because I live my whole life in a state of aggression.’
Not so today. ‘I’m in my dream… outside, breathing,’ says Peaty, who requested we speak in the sun. Gone are those dark days after Rio. ‘I don’t stop and that’s the difference. I haven’t been left alone with my own thoughts. I enjoy the little things in life now.’ Jet-washing the fence at 6am, learning the quickstep, racing through audiobooks of doctors and ex-soldiers.
At home, meanwhile, son George-Anderson is one this month. ‘He’s walking, shouting, screaming, getting his personality out there.’
At leisure centres nationwide, Peaty has held clinics to inspire future swimmers. His message? ‘Dreaming is the only thing in life that is free. So why not?’ He is already considering a post-swimming career in motivational speaking. ‘I think I’ve got a good story to tell,’ he says.
Peaty is still seeking to inspire Britain’s future swimmers and wants them all to dream big
He will not have many better chances to feed dreams than at next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham — 40 minutes from Peaty’s home. It will be an event laced with symbolism.
Another home Games, London 2012, jolted him into taking swimming seriously, defeat at the 2018 Commonwealths spurred him on to new heights. ‘You never know what the catalyst is going to be,’ Peaty says.
‘One of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is that energy is the biggest currency we can all have — the energy you give people, to your work, to be better. We put a lot of value on money, on time but what are you going to look at on your death bed? How much money you earned or how much energy you have given to the people around you? That’s where legacy is created.’
For now, Peaty’s future will be written to a different beat. He canno’t wait to learn the waltz and wants to dance to British composer Max Richter.
‘I’m starting to eat more healthily, trying to get my fat back down,’ Peaty says. ‘I’m relying on my partner to give me the best lessons — not diet tips, dance tips hopefully!’
Soon he will dip back into water but no longer will he chase ‘Project Immortal’ — that perfect race to cement his supremacy for eternity. ‘I’m just going to let that come to me,’ he says. ‘If it does happen, it does. If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.’
The ticket ballot for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is open. Apply at: Birmingham2022.com. Ballot closes 8pm on September 30.