Swimming World Championships: How Team GB’s Adam Peaty is reinventing the breaststroke

The Olympic gold medalist is proving swimming's oldest stroke is no pedestrian move, says Simon Barnes


There’s no doggy paddle race at the swimming World Championships, which is disappointing, but at least there will be breaststroke.


They say that this is the oldest stroke of all, certainly older than the three others that make up swimming’s repertoire, but doggy paddle must have come first. Every child swimmer discovers that doggy-paddling comes naturally – and then realises that it doesn’t get you very far or very fast.

But as the child learns to trust the water, the breaststroke becomes inevitable – so it’s not the oldest, just the natural and inevitable swimming stroke of humankind.

It is also the slowest of the four competitive strokes. Leisure swimmers turn naturally – and inevitably – to the breaststroke, seldom getting the face wet, sometimes even keeping the shoulders dry.

Breaststroke is what our bodies tell us to do in the water: embrace the stuff with two long arms and at the same time, kick like a frog. Stone Age images of breaststroking swimmers have been found in Egypt. The earliest competitive swimming in the 19th century was mostly breaststroke. Captain Matthew Webb was the first person to swim the Channel, doing so in 1875: guess what stroke he used?

But modern breaststroke is a refined thing, one that maximises the power of the swimmer and minimises the resistance of the water. If you want to see it at the highest and fastest level ever performed, gaze on Adam Peaty of Uttoxeter, who won gold – and set a new world record – in the 100m breaststroke at the Olympic Games in Rio last year.

That, you may remember, was Britain’s first gold of the Games, and it set rather a trend. It also completed a grand slam of golds for Peaty: he currently holds the titles at Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth levels.

His mastery of his chosen stroke is so complete he has frequently been filmed underwater, so that other swimmers can copy and learn. He refuses to be worried by this, suggesting that a copy is never as good as the original and besides, a film doesn’t show what’s going on inside.

Peaty will compete in the 100m breaststroke at the World Championships, of course, and also in the 50m, which is not contested at the Olympics. Here is pure speed, with no turning: just an end-to


Swimming: World Championships is on BBC2 Sun 5pm; Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri 4.30pm Euro 1 Sun 8.30am, 4.30pm; Mon—Fri 8.30am, 4.30pm 5 Live Sports Extra Mon—Wed 4pm