Have there ever been more eyes on a World Cup meet looking at a comeback than will be trained on Berlin this weekend as Adam Peaty makes his much anticipated return to racing? Perhaps a decade ago when the swimming world waited to see what Ian Thorpe could conjure up as he began his ultimately ill fated attempt to make the London 2012 Olympics at the World Cup stop in Singapore, but that was admittedly a very different scenario. Thorpe had been out of the water for the best part of 5 years and yet while Peaty has been absent from the competitive scene for less than a year, given the trials he has faced during that period, there is an almost equal amount of uncertainty as to what we might see unfold in the German capital.
This weekend’s opening round of the 2023 Swimming World Cup is in Berlin, which takes Peaty back to the scene of his first world records; a mixed medley relay mark followed by a one length blast to a 50m breaststroke best at the European Championships of 2014. It’s not the same pool, with that meet having been contested in a temporary tank located in the next door velodrome, but there will be familiarity no doubt as Peaty aims to get his Paris show back on the road.
It’s a road that was almost barricaded off, with Peaty himself saying on Instagram this week that he had doubted he would ever race again because “the sport broke me”, against a background of well documented struggles with his mental health over the past 6 months. But he is back and “excited to get my season rolling”.
He’s not been seen in competitive action since an outing at the Lausanne Swim Cup in February, when he posted 59.88 over 100m, but by several accounts, he looked sharp at his own Swim with the Stars meet at the London Aquatic Centre in August. He’s going straight from that to the furnace of international long course competition and the pace steps up fast, with the USA’s Nic Fink, The Netherlands’ Arno Kamminga, and new triple world champion Haiyang Qin of China all on the start sheet. It’s certainly not a case of easing back into it.
With that context, perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into the results and instead look at the manner of the performance, the process not the outcome. Certainly a swim around the 59.57 he posted on the gold Coast in January or better would be encouraging, while if he can manage 59.54 or better he will reclaim top spot domestically.
But whatever the outcome it will be comforting for all British swimming fans to see Peaty back competing. As well as his teammates performed in Fukuoka with 8 medals secured, it remains the case that no medals were won in any of the four events where Peaty took to the podium at his last appearance at the world championships in 2019. A British team with him in it is undoubtedly a better one.
There’s no GB team in Berlin, though, with the only other British competitor being Jamie Ingram who takes on the 50m and 100m butterfly, and 100m freestyle, while Peaty can be found in the 50m and 100m breaststroke events, starting with the longer race on Friday.