James Wilby has spent his entire career in Adam Peaty’s wake. At last, he caught his white whale.
The 28-year-old had the misfortune of his rise coinciding with the greatest breaststroke swimmer who ever lived, a man who had not lost a major final since his senior international debut in Glasgow in 2014 – also Wilby’s bow on the big stage.
But at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham, Wilby finally got the better of his rival.
Peaty arrived in Birmingham diminished by a broken foot, but the triple Olympic champion had qualified fastest for the final and was the overwhelming favourite to extend his winning streak.
He turned in first, but it became clear that something was wrong and Wilby chased him down and overhauled him to cap off arguably the crowning moment of his career.
He said: “I’m always chasing him, he's a phenomenal athlete and credit where it's due. He's the fastest breaststroker in the world and you can't take that away from him. This moment, I was getting that little edge on him and I'm sure he'll be kicking me in the ass later in the swimming calendar. But just tonight, I'm proud of that.
“I knew what I had to do in terms of executing a good race and I knew if I did that it was going to put me in a good position to challenge for a medal at the end. I'm overwhelmed and amazed at the result in the end. We all know the results can be different at different times but tonight I was able to put in the best race that I could, that got me top so I'm really proud of that.”
The success is all the more remarkable against the backdrop of last year, when Wilby was so disillusioned with his performance at the Tokyo Olympics that he questioned his future in the sport.
The smile is now back though, and after silver in the 200m breaststroke, he now has another Commonwealth gold to add to his collection, as well as taking down the greatest of them all.
He added: “It just sums up to me enjoyment and having that fun back in the sport is everything. We've all been faster times than that but I'm loving it, I'm really enjoying it and that's got me to the top of the podium this time. Everything else doesn't matter. I'm always going to have that medal, I'm always going to love looking at it and remembering the moments that brought it here.
“It is up there, I can't be sure what is the most satisfying but it is certainly up there as a special moment that I'll remember forever.”