Adam Peaty’s early swimming instructors were “gobsmacked” by his talent as a child.
The staff at Uttoexeter Leisure Centre always knew their former charge was going to be special and were beaming with pride on Monday morning as Peaty made British swimming history by defending his Olympic title.
The 26-year-old was in a class apart as he powered to victory in the 100 metres breaststroke at Tokyo 2020, following up his triumph from Rio five years ago.
It was a performance that came as no surprise to many that have followed his career, not least his former instructor Sheila Hughes.
“It was a marvellous performance,” Mrs Hughes, 71, told the PA news agency. “He is phenomenal swimmer.
“I first came across Adam in beginners’ class when a colleague said, ‘Will you have a look at this little boy’.
“We were so gobsmacked. We hadn’t seen a boy with breaststroke feet like that.
“He got his 10-metre badge and then went through to intermediate and then advanced. I had him until he was 11.
“He had a work ethic at that age – he got in and he swam. He did the business. He had a special talent from a very young age and I don’t think anyone will ever catch him, no way.”
John Plant, the chairman of Dove Valley Swimming Club in Uttoxeter, has also known Peaty from a young age and was among his first coaches.
“I’m speechless and that’s not said very often for me,” Mr Plant, 66, said. “What Adam has achieved, not just today, but over the last seven years is just fantastic.
“To be on top of your game momentarily is brilliant but for seven years, in a sport like swimming which is so gruelling and so physical, with the mental stresses too, Adam is absolutely up there.”
Peaty’s triumph was the 100th gold medal won by Great Britain since National Lottery funding began.
Such has been his dominance that he has not been beaten for seven years and he now owns the 16 fastest times ever recorded in his discipline.
Mark Foster, the former world champion, believes Peaty should be knighted.
He said: “I’m hopeful he’ll win Sports Personality of the Year because I believe he should do and I’m hoping he becomes Sir Adam at some point because I believe he should.
“He’s the most successful swimmer we’ve ever had and I would say he’s one of the most successful sportsmen we’ve ever had.”
Foster thinks Peaty could defend his Olympic crown again at Paris 2024 – and even go beyond that.
The 51-year-old said: “Adam could come back and say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m tired of this’ but I don’t think he will. He’s 26. He’s got Paris in three years time, and four years after that is LA.
“Knowing Adam, Paris is definitely on the cards and, if I was him and in his shoes… I didn’t retire until I was 38 because I loved what I did. He loves what he does.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Jack Buckner, the chief executive of British Swimming.
Buckner, himself a former Olympian in distance running, said: “No British swimmer has ever repeated a gold medal. He’s not only our best-ever swimmer, he’s one of our best-ever Olympians.
“To have a long career like that is really challenging, so he’s right up there. We probably don’t appreciate quite how great he is and the scale of his achievement. He is in the pantheon of British sports stars.”
It is hoped Peaty’s success will not only inspire current swimmers but encourage more people to take up the sport.
George Wood, sport development director of Swim England, said: “Every kid needs to learn to swim for their own safety and life skill.
“With Adam as the figurehead, I think it is going to be amazing for swimming, inspiring a whole new generation to get involved. This could be an amazing moment for swimming.”
:: To find your nearest swimming club, visit discover.swimming.org.
** No-one does more to support UK Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £36 million each week for good causes including elite and grassroots sport. Discover more about how playing the National Lottery supports Team GB’s athletes by visiting www.national-lottery.co.uk/tokyo2020