BIRMINGHAM, England -- Adam Peaty barely slept on Sunday night, struggling to find mental peace. How could he? The 100m breaststroke final earlier that day produced an astounding result, with Peaty -- the world record holder and one of the most dominant athletes in the country -- losing at the distance for the first time in his eight-year senior career. Worse still, he didn't even make the podium.
"I just couldn't sleep, couldn't switch off," Peaty said. "When you're in defence mode you're like 'what's gone wrong?' That's who I am. I'm always looking at how do I get better. That's just the athlete I am."
Peaty bounced back from Sunday's disappointment by winning his men's 50m breaststroke semifinal on Monday and he will swim again in the final on Tuesday.
After Sunday's final, he wasn't lost for words, but he couldn't find an explanation. There were reasons why, of course: He has raced just twice before these Games, having taken a much-needed mental health break after Tokyo 2020, then suffering from flu and a broken foot that has ruled him out of much of this season so far. It was a race just to be fit to be here in Birmingham.
"I woke up yesterday morning where my whole back was very tight. That usually happens early in the season when you're getting used to the training and sprinting. I had a really bad night yesterday, but the better man got me," he said.
Yet Peaty still seemed surprised -- everyone inside the Sandwell Aquatic Centre was. Simply put, Peaty almost never loses...almost.
He has been here before. Back in 2018, at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Peaty suffered a similarly stunning loss in the 50m breaststroke final, breaking what was then a four-year domination at the distance, and it sent him into a spiral. He has been frank about what came after. He told the Daily Mail in 2020: "I was in a place [in 2018] where you don't find any fun in anything or you don't really see the point in anything.
"I kind of, not went off the rails, but I didn't really have that overwhelming motivation to perform at something. And I am a performer, so if I don't have something to perform at, I completely lose my track."
The defeat summed up so much of what was to come next. He speaks passionately about mental health now, helping to break the stigma for others. He rebounded in the pool, too, getting himself back into shape for the next year, culminating in breaking the 100m breaststroke world record (56.88s), as well as winning two golds at Tokyo 2020. The record still stands.
He continued in the Daily Mail interview: "I'm glad I lost that race. A few months later I broke the world record, so that's kind of how much it p----d me off."
On Wednesday, he was asking himself similar questions to 2018.
"I got flu before trials, only raced two times before this Championships, and it just exposes you," he said. "That's the training aspect, and then you ask: 'Do I love the sport as much as I did?' I don't know. I've got those questions on my mind."
And so Peaty finds himself in rare but familiar territory, this time better equipped to handle the obstacles he faces. He became a father for the first time in 2020 -- his son, George, was in the crowd on Sunday -- and knows now what he must do to regain his form.
Not all of Sunday went wrong. He was in the lead after 75m, a sight so familiar in this event. But then he seemed to be swimming in syrup, his body moving slower and slower -- "25m to go I had nothing in the tank," he said after -- with England teammate James Wilby overtaking at the death to win gold, as did Australia's Zac Stubblety-Cook and Sam Williamson, who won silver and bronze, respectively. After the race, Wilby took Peaty aside.
"Jimmy [Wilby] said to me last night: 'Mate, don't let the swimming define you.' It kind of flicked a switch. As sportspeople, we always think results define us and the whole world sees us as results. And you know what, from what I've done over the last eight years, won all the Championships, hold the world records, that's not taken away from me."
All of this places Peaty in a conflicting position, still not at peace with losing, but better equipped to deal with it. He still has business to attend to in Birmingham in Tuesday's 50m breaststroke final.
"Back a lion into a corner, they're going to bite," he said. "I'm backed into a corner now."