Team GB swimmer James Wilby says it would take the perfect race to beat Adam Peaty at Tokyo 2020 and has revealed learning to fear failure has made him a better competitor.
Wilby has been challenging his fellow breaststroke specialist Peaty in the training and race pool, finishing second to the world record holder at the 2019 World Championships.
It earned them pre-selection for Tokyo, along with Duncan Scott and Luke Greenback, and the foursome have now been joined by 24 further swimmers, who earned their spot on the back of the Olympic trials in London.
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Wilby believes it is the strongest squad Britain has ever assembled. Anyone who has seen him will know he has one of the sport's biggest smiles and he grins broadly when he thinks about the amount of talent that could win medals in Japan. He describes his team-mates as close friends - but he is also motivated by a friendly rivalry with Peaty.
The 27-year-old has multiple medals from world, European and Commonwealth events, but to win gold in Tokyo would take something special. He believes it is possible to beat Peaty, who holds the top 20 fastest times in the history of the 100m breaststroke.
“It takes the perfect race,” Wilby told Eurosport.
I think that’s the case for anyone at the top of their game in any sport, in any event in swimming, to beat them takes the perfect race from the person who’s trying to do that.
“I really enjoy racing with Adam on the international stage, we’ve done it for a couple of years now and we’ve been pretty successful getting those GB flags as high as possible.
“I think the overriding goal come Tokyo is that we’re there to represent a team, and obviously we have our individual goals but as a whole we’re trying to get as many medals as possible for GB. We have fun doing that.”
Wilby’s improvement over the past four years has been extremely impressive, which included his contribution to a team relay gold at the worlds in South Korea three years ago. He puts that down to a change in mindset after he relocated to Loughborough at one of the UK’s two National Centres for Swimming.
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“I sat down with Dave (Hemmings), my coach, and basically addressed every little thing, making things as challenging as possible so that I was ready as I could be when it came to these international meets,” he said.
I really got serious, there was an element of fear, I was terrified of not achieving what I wanted to achieve in the sport and that’s a really powerful thing, I used that to push me.
“That’s what started the improvement and it’s been a continual roll since then, and being part of such a special group of swimmers really drives that, it pushes us all along.”
James Wilby (left) with his World Championship silver medal, finishing behind gold medallist and team-mate Adam Peaty (right)
Image credit: Getty Images
Wilby admits he has visualised what it would feel like to stand on the podium at his first Olympics, and says the extra year of preparation has helped him become a stronger swimmer, who is better equipped to challenge in Tokyo.
“I felt in a very strong position in March 2020 so there was a bit of disappointment when everything ground to a halt," he said/
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been negatively affected, I’ve been able to build on the position that I was in, as well as work on some other things I wouldn't have had time for.
It’s been challenging, we’ve worked around obstacles but generally speaking, that additional year has given me an extra chance to breathe and think about more things.
“Come the summer, I think I will be as ready as I could have been last year and definitely more - those little things, we’ve had time to reassess and we’re feeling very confident about the position we’re in.”
More swimmers could yet be added to the squad, while Tuesday’s announcement takes the number of confirmed athletes heading to Tokyo to represent Team GB to 70.
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