By the numbers, Adam Peaty, not Katie Ledecky, is the most dominant swimmer in history in a single Olympic event.
The British 24-year-old owns the 18 fastest 100m breaststroke times after winning his third straight world title on Monday in Gwangju, South Korea. Peaty came to worlds the lone man to break 58 seconds in the event.
Then in Sunday’s semifinals, he became the first man to break 57, lowering the world record, for the fifth time, to 56.88 and achieving the goal of what he called “Project 56.”
“There’s no word except incredible,” said Peaty, a Greek gods and history buff who after his 2016 Olympic title got several tattoos, including a lion and Poseidon on his left arm. “Obviously I’ve been chasing that for three years now, ever since I touched that board in Rio.”
Peaty is 2.42 percent faster than the second-fastest man in history (Belarusian Ilya Shymanovich, who has gone 58.29), using Shymanovic’s time as the base for the math.
That surpasses Ledecky’s 1.88 and 1.96 percent increases over the second-fastest women in the 800m and 1500m frees, respectively. One event on the world championships program has a larger gap, Sarah Sjostrom in the 50m butterfly (2.55 percent), but the 50m fly is not swum at the Olympics.
So Peaty has that to shoot for. (The biggest gap in track and field appears to be the 4.28 percent separating retired world-record holder Jan Zelezny from the world in the javelin).
In Monday’s final, Peaty expressed a bit of regret after clocking 57.14, even though no other man has ever come within a second of it.
“Ran out of a bit of steam on the back end, but I’m still learning a lot about the event,” he said. “That constant expectation I put on myself is a little bit disappointed in me, but I think that will fuel me for next year because I know how bad I want to go near 56.”
Peaty didn’t realize he could become an Olympian until watching the 2012 London Games at age 17.
He burst onto the scene two years later in an event where Great Britain had not earned an Olympic or world title since 1988, going from ranked No. 168 in the world in 2012, to No. 11 in 2013 to No. 1 in 2014 and breaking the world record for the first time in 2015.
“I’ve got a lot of learning to do, a lot of pacing to do,” Peaty said in Gwangju. “We’ve always said, do it once, do it twice, do it better.”
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