Adam Peaty’s second Olympic gold as close to an inevitability as sport gets

Forget death and taxes, in Tokyo it’s queues, health questionnaires, and the men’s 100m breaststroke. There are not supposed to be any certainties in sport, but Adam Peaty’s chances of winning a second gold in the event here in Tokyo feels as close to inevitable as you can get. His dominance is unprecedented. He has won it at the last three world championships, as well as the Rio Olympics, has broken the world record five times in five years, and swum the 17 fastest times in history, four of them this spring and summer. There isn’t another man in the field who has got within a second of his personal best.

This year Peaty’s nearest rival, Arno Kamminga, from the Netherlands, broke the British swimmer’s world record. Unfortunately for Kamminga, it was the world record Peaty set in 2015, when he became the first man in history to break the 58-second barrier. Kamminga is now the second. In the meantime, Peaty has set four more. He has pushed on through the 57sec barrier, and is now talking about whether he might be able to break the 56sec barrier. For context, that would be more than six seconds quicker than Adrian Moorhouse’s time when he won gold in the event in Seoul in 1988.

“Of course I’m going to try and race Peaty,” Kamminga said, with the air of a man attempting the impossible. Really, so long as he stays fit and well, Peaty’s racing himself. The heats start on Saturday evening UK time, the semi‑finals are on Sunday, and the final is in the small hours of Monday morning. Watch, and see one of the greatest Olympic athletes in British history become the first swimmer from this country to defend an Olympic title.

Peaty is the star turn in what Mark England, the head of Team GB, described as the country’s “strongest ever swimming team”. It’s a very different squad to the one that won six medals (Peaty’s gold, and five silvers) at Rio five years ago, since more than two-thirds of them are taking part in their first Olympics. Twenty-four-year-old Duncan Scott is one of the few swimmers here who have competed at the Games before. In Rio, Scott was part of the relay teams that won silver in both the men’s 4x200m freestyle and the men’s 4x100m medley. He will be a vital part of both teams again this time. Britain will start as slight favourites in the freestyle race, ahead of Australia and USA.

Scott has strong chances in his two individual events as well. He won his first individual world championship medal when he finished third in the 200m freestyle in Gwanju in 2019, and the personal best he set over the distance at the British championships in April is the fastest time in the world this year. With the defending champion Sun Yang banned from competing here because of his doping violation, Scott is one of the favourites in what will be one of the more tightly-contested events. Given the way he got stuck into his row with Sun when he refused to share a podium with him in Gwanju, you guess he’d prefer it if he had the chance to beat him here.

Scott has another shot in the men’s 200m individual medley, especially since, for the first time this century, neither he, nor anyone else, will need to beat Michael Phelps to win it. Another finalist from Rio, 50m freestyler Ben Proud, had been struggling with illness and injury but has just come back into the sort of form that won him bronze in the event at the World Championships in 2017. It’s a mad thrash of a race, and he’ll be up against the US star Caeleb Dressel. There’s also Luke Greenbank, in the 200m backstroke. He won the bronze at the last World Championships.

The women’s squad doesn’t quite have such strength in depth. Molly Renshaw, European champion in the 200m breaststroke, swum the second-fastest time in the world this year when she broke her own British record at the national championships in April. Kathleen Dawson will likely need to break her own European record to get a place on the podium in the 100m backstroke, while Freya Anderson will be one of a group of swimmers jostling for the bronze behind the Australian pair of Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell in the 100m free. Away from the pool, the former world junior champion Alice Dearing goes in the open‑water marathon.