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Chua Siang Yee
Monday, Sep 8, 2014

Sports

Peaty's 'price of fame': Adoring fans and a stranger's hug

My Paper | Chua Siang Yee | Monday, Sep 8, 2014

In the pool, Briton Adam Peaty is the world's fastest breaststroke swimmer over 50m. But, outside of it, the 19-year-old Derby-born teenager is still trying to catch up with his newfound fame.

In town for the inaugural Prudential Singapore Swim Stars last Friday, he said: "I went to the post office (back in England) the other day, and a woman just came up to hug me. And I was like, 'Who is this?'

"I'm certainly starting to get noticed now. People congratulating me on the streets, saying 'hi'. I guess you can call it the price of fame."

One can hardly blame him - or his adoring fans, for that matter - because his rise over the past two months has been nothing short of meteoric.

Making his debut for England at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, Peaty stunned spectators when he won two golds (100m breaststroke, 4x100m medley relay) and one silver (50m breaststroke).

Except he was not done.

At the European Championships a few weeks later in Berlin, the 1.91m-tall swimmer swam the breaststroke leg as Britain won the 4x100m mixed medley relay in world-record time (3min 44.02sec).

And still, he was not done.

Three days later, he broke Cameron van der Burgh's 50m breaststroke record of 26.67sec, set in 2009, clocking 26.62sec in the semi-final. He won the event later, adding to the 100m breaststroke title he won three days earlier.

In an era when social media is omnipresent, the University of Derby freshman's Twitter statistics tell the story.

After the record-breaking feat, his followers skyrocketed from 800 to over 5,000. His account became verified, with a blue tick on his profile page to prove its authenticity appearing one morning when he woke up.

Peaty, who trains at the City of Derby Swimming Club, said: "I still can't believe I've done it. Standing over there, and people coming up and calling me the world-record holder, I can't... it's just amazing."

Mentor Rebecca Adlington said her protege is already "among the best in the world". The two-time Olympic gold medallist told the BBC: "He's got the perfect build and he's got the mental strength and he works hard. I 100 per cent see him on the podium (at the 2016 Olympics)."

While he has yet to come to grips with his star status, pressure is the last thing that will get to the unflappable teenager.

Leaning back in his couch at the Marina Bay Sands restaurant Fuse, Peaty said: "I don't feel any (pressure), really. If anything, it's at the back of my head.

"After the Commonwealth Games, I hired a manager, and he takes care of everything now, so I can focus on swimming. It's the most important thing."

Back home, the adulation continues. The latest story? A new swimming hall in Uttoxeter, about 30 minutes from his home town, is set to be named after him.

That - in the words of a boy who used to be so afraid of water, he would cry when he had to bathe or swim - is the price of fame.

siangyee@sph.com.sg


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