CRAIG LORD, the swimming correspondent of The Times, says there’s only one choice for Sportsman of the Year
Breakthrough seasons of the magnitude enjoyed by Adam Peaty this year are few and far between, especially when it comes to British swimmers setting the pace for the rest of the world while keeping alive a national tradition.
The 19-year-old from Derby defeated champions Olympic (South African Cameron van der Burgh) and world (Australian Christian Sprenger) for the Commonwealth 100 metres breaststroke crown in Glasgow in July.
Three weeks later, he emerged from the European championships as the most successful man at the continental showcase with four gold medals (50 and 100 metres breaststroke and two relays) and two world records to his name (26.62sec in the semi-final of the 50 metres breaststroke and the 4x100m medley relay with Fran Halsall, Jemma Lowe and Chris Walker-Hebborn).
Peaty’s world mark over 50 metres made him the first British man to hold a world record at breaststroke since Olympic champion Adrian Moorhouse back in 1991. Over 100 metres, the Olympic distance, Peaty is just 0.2sec shy of the world record as the world’s fastest this year, on 58.68sec (compared to Moorhouse’s pace-setting standard of 1:01.49).
Coached by Melanie Marshall, Peaty played a starring role in the England and Britain medley relays that, respectively, defeated Australia and France for the Commonwealth and European titles. For England in Glasgow, victory had Australia beaten in the event for the first time since 1950.
And all of that from a man who as a boy overcame a fear of water. “I hated going in the shower, hated going in the bath and every time I went to the pool I used to climb up my mum’s arms. I hated the pool,” Peaty said.
Fears overcome, a school swimming gala led to Dove Valley Swimming Club at the age of 10 and four years later one of Melanie Marshall’s friends suggested he try out at City of Derby. Marshall was the international swimmer and six times Commonwealth medallist of 2006 who had turned to coaching.
The Marshall-Peaty partnership did not get off to a an auspicious start. “He was in the third lane with the 11-year-old girls doing freestyle,” she recalls. “But then I saw him do breaststroke and I thought ‘this kid’s good’. He raced at regionals and I saw a real racer in him. He went from strength to strength.”
Peaty agrees: “When Mel first saw my freestyle I think she was threatening to throw me out. I didn’t blame her. As soon as she saw my breaststroke I think it was a game changer: she saw the potential in what I could do.”
Marshall called for a full commitment. The ensuing challenges spilled beyond the pool. Peaty’s father Mark does not drive and so the onus was on his mother Caroline on top of her work as a nursery manager. “My mum was like ‘there is no way we can do that’,” Peaty said. “Financially it was a lot to spend on petrol – about £100 a week – and she works as a nursery manager on the other side of Derby, near Stoke. I was used to walking down to the pool – twice a week – and it was a massive change financially and lifestyle-wise.”
There was a team effort with Marshall and others all pitching in to make sure he could get to training at Repton School and latterly twice weekly at Loughborough. Eventually – with help from Marshall – Peaty bought himself a car.
“That has helped my parents,” he says. “What has changed this season is that I was able to get every single session in. Last season I was relying on my mum to get up in the morning. Some mornings she’d had a really hard day at work and couldn’t get up. This season we’ve got rid of that factor and the times have shown that I haven’t missed a single session. We pulled it through and here we are.”
At 19 and two years out from what would be a debut Olympic Games, Peaty is poised to continue a British breaststroke tradition – established by David Wilkie, Duncan Goodhew, Adrian Moorhouse and Nick Gillingham – of pace-setting for the rest of the world.
- Randall Northam: Why I’m voting for – Jo Pavey
- See our prompt list of other leading contenders
- And click here to register your vote
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms
Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms will be available in October 2014
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club