Adam Peaty was stunned after his dominant Olympic gold-winning swim left him wondering where his rivals were and in disbelief at his incredible feat.
The 21-year-old from Uttoxeter won Britain’s first medal of the Rio Olympics, ending a 28-year wait for gold in the process.
Not since Adrian Moorhouse in 1988 had a British male won an Olympic swimming title and Peaty won the same 100 metres breaststroke race in a world record of 57.13 seconds and by more than 1.5secs.
“This doesn’t feel like an Olympics because I’ve got this around my neck,” said Peaty, world, European, Commonwealth and now Olympic champion after his medal ceremony.
“Going down that last 50 I was aware that I was in front, but not by that much.
“I touched the wall, looked to my left and I was like, ‘Where is everybody?’.
“That swim for me was probably the best executed, the perfect race.”
Britain were roundly criticised for winning just three medals in the pool at London 2012, none of them gold.
But two were won on the second night of swimming finals here, with Peaty leading the way and Jazz Carlin adding silver in the 400m freestyle.
Patriotic Peaty was inspired by the London 2012 Olympics and told aspiring youngsters they too can achieve their dreams with hard work.
He added: “People think you need so much to be an Olympic gold medallist. You really don’t.
“All you’ve got to do is put 100 per cent effort in each day.
“London was so much to me. It really inspired me. Hopefully for the children and teenagers back home, just push every single day and don’t give up.”
Moorhouse’s gold came in Seoul with a come-from-behind win, but Peaty led from the start with a blistering performance.
“That was one of many motivations coming into this Games,” Peaty added.
“It was always in the back of my mind, 28 years is a very long time.
“Going into this race I was so composed, so calm, I wasn’t even thinking of that.
“Now that I’ve done it it’s an absolute honour to get that gold for Team GB.
“Nothing means more to me than racing for my country, racing for the Queen, the Royal family and racing for the people back home who support me.”
Peaty was clear favourite entering the Games as the world champion and only man in history to swim beneath 58secs.
He bettered his own world record in his heat on Saturday, clocking 57.55 and was 0.07 slower in his semi-final as he qualified fastest.
And he went quicker still in surging to a supreme victory.
He completed the first 50m in 26.61, 0.08 under world record pace, and a storming second length saw him enhance his advantage to win in a time even quicker than he had imagined.
He added: “To do that in an Olympic Games is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. It’s definitely the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa, the London 2012 champion, was second in 58.69 and Cody Miller of the United States third in 58.87.
Peaty, who paid tribute to his coach Mel Marshall, took everything in his stride with a beaming smile as parents Caroline and Mark and girlfriend Anna watched on.
He was constantly reminded to stay focused and take nothing for granted in the lead-up to the Games by his City of Derby coach of seven years Marshall.
Marshall travelled to the Athens Olympics of 2004 as world number one over 200m freestyle, but did not make the final.
She said: “I would never have been able to guide him to this if I had not had that experience myself.
“It was 12 years ago and if I look back now, I’d say that was my defining moment as a coach.
“I feel like this, for me, was my Olympic gold.”
Peaty has the 4x100m medley relay to come on Friday and believes he can continue to improve towards Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
“I’d like to say I could go 56 (seconds), but there’s a lot more work to do than just saying it,” Peaty added.
“You never put a limit on anything. I know there’s more in there and we’ll see. I’ve got eight more years, maybe more, in this game. Hopefully I can push on even more.”
He has come a long way since childhood, when he was scared of having a bath.
Peaty added: “I overcame that fear and there’s nothing more I love than racing the best in the world now. That’s what I love to do.”