Peaty in 100m breaststroke is Team GB’s banker gold of these Games (Image: PA)
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There is a target on the back of Adam Peaty, only nobody can get close enough to see it.
He is reigning champion, world record holder and a swimmer who never gives the impression he thinks he can be beaten.
Of course the rest of the world is queueing up to give him a bloody nose. But swing as they might they can’t get within range.
“Definitely it’s more difficult to defend a title than win it, mentally as well as physically,” says Rebecca Adlington, who won double gold in Beijing but came up in short in London.
“Adam is older, he’s not the spring chicken on the block any more. He’s going to have people chasing him down. Everyone wants to be the person that finally knocks him off his pedestal.
“The problem for all of them is the challenge of that appeals to Adam. He likes that thrill, he likes that chase.”
Peaty warming up at Tokyo Aquatics Centre ahead of his heat today
(Image: Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
Peaty is so on it, so meticulous in the detail of what he does, that there is little likelihood of someone catching him off guard and yanking down his Speedos.
By now we know the stats. Unbeaten at 100m breaststroke in major competition for seven years, owner of the 20 fastest times in history.
“I have that history of performing when it matters,” he said ahead of today’s opening race at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. “And going into these Games I am the most liberated I have been.”
Two-time Olympic swimming champion Rebecca Adlington
(Image: Manchester Evening News)
Opponents will hope he is getting ahead of himself, even if that is something they can’t manage to do.
That the ocean of newsprint carrying his tattooed, smiling image and expressions of high ambition, will breed complacency.
Adlington laughs at the very notion.
“Adam is very different to me,” she says. “I went from the underdog overnight to something. Adam hasn’t done that. He has really built up his career over the years.
Adlington: 'This is the happiest I’ve seen Adam. He’s more relaxed, more confident, more at ease with it'
“He knows what he’s doing now and this is the happiest I’ve seen him. He’s more relaxed, more confident, more at ease with it. You can see this little fire in him and I really like that. Because you can tell.”
Tell what? That he is going to rewrite the record books again, even though his closest rival on paper is pushing from more than a second behind?
“Look, Adam loves to race, whereas I hated it,” she explains. “He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t want to be beaten at all, even in the heats. He could easily give it 70 per cent and still make it through, but that’s not who Adam is.
Adlington celebrates winning gold in Women's 400m freestyle at Beijing Olympics
(Image: Daily Mirror)
“He constantly wants to get faster and better. It doesn’t matter if it’s a time that others think is impossible.
“People forget that although it’s a world record it’s still just Adam’s PB. And every athlete strives to improve that.”
It is 13 years since Adlington struck gold twice in five days to become Britain’s first Olympic champion since 1988 and the first for exactly a century to win two.
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She is too modest to say, but her achievement in Beijing provided the inspiration for the current crop who arrive here with such optimism.
“They all have a different mentality now,” she says. “Ten years ago people were saying ‘I just want to make the Olympics’. They aren’t saying that any more. They say they want to medal.
“They’ve seen that it’s possible. Whether it was myself, from Mansfield, or Adam, from Uttoxeter. We’re just normal people.
Adlington: 'Adam constantly wants to get faster and better. It doesn’t matter if it’s a time that others think is impossible'
(Image: Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images)
“The British mentality used to be that you have to be American, with all their great facilities and everything else, to be really good.
“But actually, water’s water. If you want to work hard and train hard you’ll do it. We understand that now.”