“My son will be mixed race. I want him to be judged on his achievements, not his skin colour.”
Adam Peaty has never shied away from a challenge. Nine world records, Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth titles – as well as a six-year unbeaten record in the 100m breaststroke event – the result of a relentless pursuit for perfection.
However, the swimmer is set to become a father in September and with that has come a new mindset and focus that goes beyond his prowess in the pool.
“Swimming is a very white-based sport because culturally we don’t really reach out to those communities to get them involved,” he said.
“I want to start to create that positive environment for people where no matter what race, what age or background they can be part of it.”
In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent, Peaty discusses fatherhood, improving diversity in swimming, his mental health battles and the Tokyo Olympics.
‘I was in Australia when I found out I was going to be a father’
Peaty, 25, and his partner Eiri Munro, 22, met in November last year and bonded quickly, despite the swimmer’s busy schedule in which he headed to Australia early in the new year.
“I was phoning her every couple of days and then she said she wasn’t feeling well, so she took a pregnancy test and said she’d ring me back,” revealed Peaty.
“I knew everything was going to change from there, but it’s been amazing.”
He insisted: “Everyone’s thinking it was an accident but that’s not the case. It’s one of the most beautiful things you can do together and we’ve already sorted the nursery!”
The swimmer said becoming a father around nine months before the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games will be a “challenge” he is relishing.
“There’ll be sleepless nights, but I’ve grown up so much since Rio 2016 when I was really just a boy, and this is another maturity phase for me,” he said.
“I think [fatherhood] will make me stronger and it’ll be amazing to stand on those blocks at the Olympics knowing every time I race have [my son and family] behind me.”
‘How many black swimmers can you think of? That needs to change’
American Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win an individual Olympic swimming gold medal at the Rio 2016 Games and her success was heralded as a breakthrough moment, which could improve diversity in the sport.
At present, marathon swimmer Alice Dearing is the only black swimmer who is part of Britain’s elite programme and Peaty, whose son will have a Nigerian grandparent, believes the sport needs a “culture change”.
He said: “My friend Michael Gunning used to swim for Great Britain and now represents Jamaica and because he’s black, when people see him out and about they always assume he’s a runner – that shouldn’t be the case.
“We have to identify a way to reach out to more communities, attract the nine-to-12-year-olds and give them the opportunity to progress.
“Then it’ll be a level playing field for everyone and it’ll really be down to who’s the fastest will make it.”
‘I’ve had tough times with mental health’
Despite a win ratio and haul of 37 major medals which makes him Britain’s most dominant sportsperson over the past six years, Peaty has struggled with his own mental health.
A shock 50m breaststroke defeat at the 2018 Commonweath Games hit the swimmer hard, and he has admitted to drinking and partying “more than I should have” at times.
“In 2018-19 I was being moody and pushing people away,” he recalled. “I wasn’t myself, I wasn’t positive and didn’t have the right state of mind.
“I love fast cars and going out with my mates and then I began thinking ‘what’s the point?’ There was no joy in things any more, which was a warning for me.
“Alcohol can have a depressing effect and took me to a low place, but I began fixing things one step at a time.”
Peaty continued: “I know a lot of people have struggled with mental health during lockdown, but what has helped me is making sure I talk with friends, going out in the countryside for walks and of course prepare for our new arrival.”
The 50m and 100m breaststroke world record holder is backing Swim England’s #OpenOurPools campaign and hopes the 50,000 signatures will force the government to reopen swimming pools in the coming weeks.