For so long it seemed only the inclusion of a great white might inject some jeopardy into his races.
But ultimately the answer to the question of how you stop Adam Peaty came in the more humane form of a damaged foot and the inspired charge of James Wilby.
Goodness, there are upsets and then there is Peaty losing a breaststroke race across a distance of 100m. It hadn’t happened before. Not once in a major final in a 50m pool in eight years. Not many close-run things, either.
Swimmer James Wilby has taken gold in the Commonwealth Games 100metre breaststroke
Wilby beat Team GB team-mate and big favorite Adam Peaty (above) to the title on Sunday
And then this, the sort of race to shatter the idea that cheap gold can be mined at the Commonwealth Games.
He didn’t get one of those – the prize went to Wilby, among the many talented English swimmers living in one of the biggest shadows in all of sport. But here’s the thing – Peaty also didn’t get the silver or bronze.
He was fourth. Empty tank and empty-handed. And indeed human, having once said he felt ‘like a god’ every time he walked to the pool.
With his record you can get away with that kind of talk – it takes a puffed out chest to support three Olympic gold medals, eight from the worlds and 17 at European level.
But gods don’t break a foot doing routine stretches, like Peaty did 10 weeks ago, and on such dumb luck and basic physiology an incredible streak was brought to an end.
Peaty, who had not lost in the event since 2015, sportingly hugged Wilby after the event
The 27-year-old had led with all but 25m to go, but then he had too little left to give. Too little training to call on him, having only shed his protective boot four weeks ago.
His time of 59.86 was almost three seconds shy of his latest of many world records, but more crucially it was behind the 59.25 clocked by Wilby, who had trailed at the turn but produced a scorching second 50m.
Zac Stubblety-Cook, the Australian Olympic 200m champion, was second, and his team-mate Sam Williamson took third.
‘It took a broken foot to get it away from me,’ Peaty said. ‘But I chose to fight. I don’t really care about the stats and how long I’m undefeated. It was a very slow ending for me. I can’t even remember when I went that slow. Of course it’s a shock.
‘I felt really good at 50. I just don’t know what went wrong. With 25 to go I had nothing in the tank. Sometimes you just have a bad race.
Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook took second with compatriot Sam Williamson grabbing bronze
‘Going into the next two years it’s how do I peak in Paris. There’s obviously a lot going wrong in my training programme. It is what it is. Sometimes when you don’t race all season it bites you when it matters.’
The kicker for Peaty is that he had matched his semi-final time of 59.02sec he would have won this final.
But that’s where the depleted reserves came in – after only five races all year and so little training of late he just didn’t have the gas for the journey.
He goes again in the 50m on Monday, having lost that title on this stage four years ago – his last defeat at any distance. What does this mean for that? ‘F*** knows,’ as he put it, and yes, remove.
And so to Wilby, a world silver medalist in his own right and a holder of global gold in relay gigs.
The shame is that a Peaty defeat, such is its rarity, will always be seen through such a prism, but that does an inevitable injustice to an astonishing Wilby performance, which adds to his 200m silver last week.
How great he could have his day. ‘Adam is a phenomenal athlete,’ he said. ‘This moment, I was able to get a little edge on him, but he’ll probably kick me in the ass later in the calendar. But I’m proud of that.’ Good on him.
Earlier, paralympic gold medalist Alice Tai won the 100m backstroke S8, six months after having her right leg amputated below the knee due to a worsening of her condition, bilateral talipes.
James Guy also took bronze in the 200m butterfly, the same race in which South Africa’s Chad Le Clos equaled the Commonwealth Games medal record of 18 by claiming silver.
A fine achievement, but like so much else, it was entirely overshadowed by a home favorite with a brittle foot.