Adam Peaty did not need to be diagnosed to work out what was wrong.
‘I was in a place where you don’t find any fun in anything or you don’t really see the point in anything,’ the British swimming superstar recalls.
It was 18 months ago that Peaty suffered from those symptoms of depression and, for a time, the Olympic champion and world record holder became more interested in booze than breaststroke.
Peaty has previously admitted to struggling with the comedown from winning gold at Rio 2016. But this is the first time he has spoken of the mental torment he also experienced two years later, triggered by a defeat in the Commonwealth Games in April 2018 — his first loss in four years.
‘After Rio, you get the post-Olympic blues, but my deepest low was at the end of 2018,’ the 25-year-old tells Sportsmail.
‘The Commonwealth Games was a tough time because I took a loss in the 50m and I am the fastest man on the planet, so why was I losing? That doubt creeped up. There wasn’t really that much belief in myself.
‘After the Commonwealths, towards the end of the year, I didn’t have any races. And when you involve off-season and you involve partying and drinking, that’s a depressant in itself, so I was doing that a lot. I kind of, not went off the rails, but I didn’t really have that overwhelming motivation to perform at something. And I am a performer, so if I don’t have something to perform at, I completely lose my track.
‘Add that in with all that partying and stuff, it wasn’t that great to have that all at once.
‘Then you are on this low where you can’t really enjoy anything, you don’t really see the point of buying nice things or doing nice things, because you don’t get a high out of it any more.
‘It took a long while to recognise what was important to me and what wasn’t. I have found that thankfully now. I know exactly how to treat my body, how to treat my mind, and it’s not by forcing alcohol as much as you can.’
A short insight with @scienceinsport in what it takes to be at the top of the game and stay there. “Attack, Attack, Attack”
Hearing Peaty speak about alcohol brings to mind a tale he once told about London 2012. He was then aged 17 and was about to go and get ‘drunk in a field’ before discovering that Craig Benson, a friend from their junior days, had made the semi-final of the 100m breaststroke.
That was the moment he ‘started being serious’ about swimming and four years later he became Olympic champion in that event.
‘As a teenager, I used to love getting hammered,’ Peaty admits. ‘But you get those moments where you appreciate that you are an athlete and all these things that come with an athlete have to come first. I’d love to go out on a Friday night, on a Saturday night with the lads. I did that in 2018, pretty much, from like September to December.’
Every Friday and Saturday? ‘Oh yeah, and Thursday,’ Peaty replies. ‘And I just got bored of it in the end, and now I don’t even crave it because I got it out of my system. It got a bit tedious.’
Despite his lifestyle in the months prior, Peaty still won three gold medals at the World Championships in July 2019, breaking his own world record in the 100m —clocking 56.88 in the semi-finals. Interestingly, he says the catalyst for those results was the same thing that started his mental health struggles — that shock loss at the Commonwealths.
‘I evolved so much more from that than I ever would had I won,’ he says. ‘So I am glad I lost that race. A few months later I broke the world record, so that’s kind of how much it p***** me off.’
Peaty’s world-record swim in South Korea meant he completed ‘Project 56’, the outrageous bid to become the first man to go under 57 seconds in the 100m breaststroke he set with his coach Mel Marshall. Such is his dominance, the Staffordshire swimmer is unbeaten in the 100m in six years and has the 18 quickest times in history. So, is Project 55 possible?
‘It’s possible but it’s going to f****** take a lot,’ says Peaty, who has been training in an 18ft flume tank in his garden during lockdown but could be back in the pool next week after the Government gave elite athletes the green light to return.
‘It’s a big ask. But I never say never. I am so obsessed with getting faster right now, that is my life.’
Ahead of next year’s rescheduled Olympics in Tokyo, it is clear Peaty’s only competition is the clock. Many might therefore think it would be difficult for him to stay motivated. But that would fail to understand the man’s mindset.
‘I love being on top and if I wasn’t winning, someone else would be on top and for me that’s not acceptable,’ he says. ‘But it’s not just about going to the Olympics and winning it, it’s being the best possible version and the fastest person I can be.
‘I know I will look back in a few years’ time and go, “F****** hell, that was quick”. If I can stay 10 years undefeated, that is a massive accolade. That’s one of my goals in the near future.’
There will come a time when he has to contemplate slowing down. Peaty hopes to peak in Tokyo. Then, in the run-up to Paris 2024, he wants to strike a better balance between partying and the pool, yet the news he is to become a father in September may kibosh those best-laid plans.
‘There will be a point in my career where I go, “There is no way I am beating that”. Hopefully I get that in Tokyo, that’s the plan. Then I will be content with just winning. I will look at it and go, “This isn’t healthy to keep going on this curve of progression and dedicating my whole life”.
‘I will be 26 at the end of this year and you get the push and pulls of life. I want to go out with the lads on a Friday and not train Saturday morning.
‘So how do I do that and still maintain enough to win? That will be another calculation for Mel to put in place,’ he says.
AS a world record holder, Peaty is paid more visits by drug testers than most athletes in the world.
‘I am open to that, I don’t really care,’ he shrugs. ‘I just sit and watch Netflix with my guy! If he comes and I’ve just had a p***, I’ve got to wait another hour and a half so I’ll switch on some Netflix or play FIFA.’
Peaty would happily be tested more but he wants a level playing field. And he has little faith in swimming’s governing body, FINA, who were accused of trying to protect China’s three-time Olympic champion and drug cheat Sun Yang in his recent doping case.
‘I’ve never had a good relationship with them,’ he admits. ‘Fit for purpose? They could do a lot better job with the athletes, more transparency and communication. They are trying to change, but whether it’s for the good of themselves or the good of the athletes, you don’t really know.’
If Peaty had his way, doping would be seen as a criminal activity and cheats would face prison.
‘There are people all over the globe that are doping — some Americans, Chinese, Russians, Australians, even some from our own country,’ he adds. ‘It’s so rife in any sport right now and it seems like these doctors or nutritionists are two steps ahead.
‘People dope these days to get ahead, to get a nice commercial contract, for a financial gain. But as soon as you treat doping as fraud or you put that threat of prison on their agenda, that’s when you will stop people doping because they will lose everything. They will be a national disgrace and they are going to lose their commercial contracts.
‘If I was a person who lost to a doper in Tokyo, and they offered me to have a f****** ceremony in Paris, I’d be suing the s*** out of someone. That’s my stand on doping.’
Had Peaty’s life panned out differently, he could have been in tanks not trunks. ‘If I wasn’t a swimmer right now, I would probably be in the Army,’ he reveals.
‘From when I was a kid, I found it fascinating. I loved tanks and I loved dressing up as a soldier. I take a lot of inspiration from the military. Imagine a squad of soldiers — to get to a point, they have got to attack and fight their way through it. That’s exactly how I see myself.
‘I’m not going to Tokyo to defend anything. I am going there to give my best performance and that is attacking. It’s really good to get their state of mind and how they push themselves to the extreme point to where they are going to break. If they don’t perform, their life is on the line. If I don’t perform, I’ve got a few things on the line, but I’m still going to have my life, so be grateful for what you have.’
During last summer’s World Championships, Peaty listened to the audiobook The Fear Bubble from former soldier Ant Middleton. It is no surprise when Peaty admits he would be keen to take part in Middleton’s Channel 4 programme SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Jarhead 😈 1 foot at a time on a half Swiss ball with hands on the bars/ add weight by putting a weighted vest on or weight on your back.
He has already pitted himself in hostile environments as character tests arranged by his coach Marshall. They include dodging petrol bombs as part of a police riot-training exercise and jumping out of a plane from 14,000ft last September.
‘Mel likes to test us outside the swimming environment and outside the gym, just for mental resilience,’ he explains. ‘It trains your mind to deal with scenarios where you are not in control. It’s so good for your mind to learn new skills.
‘Jumping out of a plane gave me a massive adrenaline rush. Not many people know about that, but now they do! How did I feel? The wind is so fast and so cold that you can’t breathe that well. It was pretty much straight down, 150mph.
‘The petrol bombs was a police thing where you have to keep your nerve. Everything was about process and making sure you don’t get out of control with your emotions. It was using the right shield to deflect petrol bombs and they are landing on your feet. They are real petrol bombs. It was a bit scary.’
Peaty’s passion for the military and all things battles and bravery also comes across in his tattoos. As well as the huge lion on his left upper arm, there is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, and Achilles, the greatest warrior in Greek mythology. The next inking he wants after lockdown is of a Spartan warrior, begging the question, why so many Greeks?
‘I don’t know, it’s just a nice little theme,’ he replies. ‘Plus the Greeks didn’t f*** around, did they?’