British Olympic gold-winning swimmer Adam Peaty admits he has been in a “self-destructive spiral” but hopes he is coming out the other side as he chases more Olympic success.
The 28-year-old has been in a class of his own in sprint breaststroke events for nearly a decade but pulled out of the British Swimming Championships this month, citing mental health issues.
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Peaty has spoken previously about periods of depression and problems with alcohol, which he admitted worsened last year as he struggled with injury, motivation and the breakdown of his relationship with the mother of his son.
“It’s been an incredibly lonely journey. The devil on my shoulder [says], ‘You’re missing out on life. You’re not good enough. You need a drink. You can’t have what you want. You can’t be happy,'” he told the Times newspaper for an article published on Monday.
“I’ve been on a self-destructive spiral, which I don’t mind saying because I’m human,” he said. “By saying it, I can start to find the answers.
“I got to a point in my career where I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t feel happy swimming. I didn’t feel happy racing, my biggest love in the sport. I’ve had my hand hovering over a self-destruct button because if I don’t get the result that I want, I self-destruct.”
Peaty successfully defended his 100-metre breaststroke title at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, having earlier that year set a record for the fastest 20 times in history over the distance.
His world record is nearly a full second quicker than anyone else has ever swum, and any defeat for Peaty, such as the one at the Commonwealth Games last year after he returned from a foot injury, is a huge shock.
That relentless pursuit of perfection has taken its toll, but Peaty insists he does want to chase a third straight 100-metre title in Paris next year.
“Any sane person knows that 18 years doing the same thing is pretty much crazy,” he said. “Trying to find tiny margins year after year, trying to find 0.1 percent.
“The dedication and sacrifice – weekends and all your time are spent chasing that goal for this one opportunity of Olympic glory. Once made sense. Twice was a big ask and was bigger last time round because that extra COVID year was really hard on all of us. A third one? It’s very bizarre that we do it, but I’m still here.
“The only reason that I took a step away from it for now, competitively, is because I don’t know why I’m still doing it, to be honest. I don’t know why I’m still fighting. The positive thing is that I noticed a ‘why’ there. I’m looking for the answer.”
Last week, Olympic gold medallist swimmer Kyle Chalmers said he hoped that by speaking out about struggles with his mental health he can inspire the next generation.
Chalmers, who won Olympic 100-metre freestyle gold in Rio as a teenager and took silver in Tokyo in 2021, took a mental health break last year after a row about his decision to race at the world championships.
Asked if his open discussions about mental health may have influenced other swimmers like Peaty, Chalmers told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph: “I’d like to hope so.”
“I’ve had to step away from the pool a couple of times with mental health problems, and it’s something that’s not easy at all, especially for guys,” said the 24-year-old, who won the 100-metre freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships this week.
“But standing up and saying, ‘This is how I’m actually feeling. These are the pressures that sport gives us,’ hopefully makes it easier for the next generation coming through,” Chalmers said.
“Someone like Peaty, who is one of my best mates, … for him to come out and spend Christmas with me and being able to talk about those challenges was probably not only good for him, but really good for me too.”