Matt Richards On Lessons Learned From A Tough 2022 & The Inspiration Of Phelps & Peaty

Matthew Richards of Great Britain competes in the Men's Freestyle 200m Heats during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 24th, 2023.
Matt Richards: Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Matt Richards On Lessons Learned From A Tough 2022 & The Inspiration Of Phelps & Peaty

After returning from the World Championships in June 2022, Matt Richards packed up his life in Bath and made the 29-mile drive to Millfield.

Less than a year had elapsed since he’d been crowned Olympic champion with the British 4x200m relay in Tokyo.

However, his progress had stalled and he’d just finished 30th in the 200 free prelims in Budapest in 1:48.74.

He won bronze in the Hungarian capital in the 4×2 after a prelims swim before making way for James Guy in the final and was part of the 4×1 quartet that finished fourth.

But Richards had already made plans to leave the British Swimming Performance Centre Bath where’d he been since 2020, working under Jol Finck and latterly Dave McNulty.

Awaiting was a new chapter at Millfield in Somerset, south-west England, where he’d be working under the guidance of coach Ryan Livingstone.

After his move, Richards went straight off to the Commonwealth Games and on to the European Championships, where he claimed a relay medal of each colour.

Matthew Richards and Tom Dean of Great Britain react after winning the gold and the silver medals in the 200m Freestyle Men Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 25th, 2023.

Matt Richards & Tom Dean: Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Fast-forward to the evening of 25 July 2023 at the Fukuoka worlds and Richards led home Olympic champion Tom Dean for an historic British one-two in the 200 free.

After fifth in the 100 free in a 47.45 British record, he joined forces with Dean, Guy and Duncan Scott as the quartet added world gold to their 4×200 Olympic crown.

Richards completed his collection with bronze after leading off the mixed 4x100m freestyle with Scott, Anna Hopkin and Freya Anderson as the quartet set a European record of 3:21.68.

It concluded 12 months of contrasting fortunes for the 20-year-old who recalled some turbulent times.

Richards told Swimming World:

“It was frustrating. For me, I knew that the 2022 season wasn’t my best, I knew something wasn’t right and something wasn’t clicking and that was a case for me of going away with my team and figuring out what the problem was.

“Where it was going wrong, how we could fix it and improve and move forwards. In elite sport you learn a lot more from those seasons than the ones that go perfectly and I think that showed this year.

“I had the success in 2021, I had that tough year in 2022 and we used those lessons and actioned that learning to be able to improve and move forward this year.

“I think now it’s all about building upon that and remembering the lessons from 2022, learning from the things that well and didn’t go well this year and implementing all of that into the Olympic season where obviously everything has to be as close to perfect as possible.”

“Exceptional” Livingstone & Tribute To Fiancee Large

Located in Street, Somerset, Millfield is an independent school for boarding and day students with dedicated swim programmes for all standards up to international levels.

Its training facilities include an eight-lane, 50m pool and a smaller pool which can be used for swim down, rehab or swimming lessons plus an extensive gym for land-based training.

Former students have competed at every Olympics since 1968 including Duncan Goodhew – 100m breaststroke champion at Moscow 1980 – and Mark Foster, winner of more than 50 international medals.

Five-time Olympic medallist Guy spent seven years there from the age of 13 before returning this summer following seven years at Bath seeking fresh impetus with Paris 2024 on the horizon.

Euan Dale – double 2006 Commonwealth medallist and 2008 Olympian – is director of swimming with coaches Livingstone and Rachel Aldington along with athletic development lead Daniel Waddingham and development coach Keiran Smith.


Emily Large: Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Guy cited Livingstone’s meticulous, personalised approach as one of the reasons behind his return to Millfield while Richards described the former Newcastle Swim Team head coach as “the main pull” behind his choice.

He added:

“He’s exceptional, he’s like no-one else.

“His understanding and knowledge of the sport and the science behind what we do is pretty incredible.

“He’ll probably tell me off for singing his praises so highly but I think he’s the real reason why I’ve had so much success in the last year.

“I think the partnership between myself and him works really well because I’m very much a science-based athlete.

“I like to know what we’re doing and why and so having that partnership between the two of us works really well for me.”

Under Livingstone, the Performance Centre squad do nine sessions a week from 8-10am and 2-4pm plus gym work.

Also among the training squad is Emily Large, Richards’ fiancée who returned to the GB team at the 2023 worlds, five years after competing at the 2018 European Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Like Richards, Large – the 2017 world junior 200 fly champion – has thrived under Livingstone’s watchful eye, coming 10th in the 200 fly in Fukuoka.

The pair get married in August 2024, weeks after the conclusion of the Paris Olympics, and Richards pointed to Large’s empathy and support in those times of struggle.

He said:

“I think the dynamic we have where we train with each other every day, we spend the time in between training together every day, we spend pretty much all our time together.

“Lots of people that definitely wouldn’t work but for us it works really well.

“I think we know how to balance the two worlds and be able to differentiate work from home; being able to be withs someone who gets it and understands the world that we work in….

“Last year when things weren’t going well for me, Emily knows what that feels like, she’s had periods in her career where things haven’t been going well and we can share that.

“I’m very lucky: I can’t sing her praises high enough. I’d like to think she would probably say it’s the same for her, being able to share her experience with someone else who also gets it on her end.”

Phelps, Peaty & Popovici

With his winning time of 1:44.30 in Fukuoka, Richards went third in the British rankings behind Dean and Scott who went 1:44.22 and 1:44.26 respectively en-route to gold and silver at the Tokyo Olympics.

It also elevated him to ninth all-time with Paul Biedermann and his super-suited 1:42.00 from the 2009 worlds still atop the rankings.

Phelps on 1:42.96 and David Popovici with his 1:42.97 as he claimed the 2022 European title are the only other men inside 1:43.


Michael Phelps: Photo Courtesy:

Richards cites 28-time Olympic medallist Phelps as an inspiration along with Adam Peaty, the three-time Olympic champion and British teammate.

Richards said:

“Phelps obviously is a massive one.

“Being able to watch him on the telly growing up and being able to see the unbelievable things he did in the sport was very, very inspiring and that was something I always looked up to and wanted to try and chase and become my own version of that.

“In a lot of ways, Adam as well. Seeing him growing up and the dominance he had over the breaststroke and being able to watch that first-hand and see a British lad doing that for me growing up was hugely, hugely inspiring.

“Probably both of those guys growing up and there’s lots of other people and lots of other people in different sports as well that I can say but those are probably the headliners.”

Next up is a reunion with Popovici at the European Short-Course Championships in Otopeni, Romania.

At Budapest 2022, Popovici became the first man to do the 100-200 free double since the very first Worlds, when American Jim Montgomery pulled the trick in Belgrade in 1973.

At the European Championships in Rome weeks later, the 17-year-old set a 200 textile mark and took down Cesar Cielo’s 100 free WR in 46.86, slicing 0.05 from the Brazilian’s standard set at the 2009 worlds in the same Foro Italico.

While he didn’t reach those heights at the 2023 World Championships – finishing fourth in the 200 free and sixth over 100 – Richards tipped his hat to Popovici who’ll be competing in front of a home crowd at the Otopeni Swimming Complex.

Richards said:

“Being able to be at the meet (the 2022 European Championships), be at the poolside when David did the 1:42 and did the world record on the 100 free was incredibly to watch and to see someone so young doing that was phenomenal.

“I’ve had the pleasure of racing him now several times and I’ve said a few times we are going to be racing each other for many, many years to come I think.

“We’re going to have some great doozies and head-to-heads yet to come. It’s been incredible to watch.”

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