World Championships: Matt Richards: From Cafe Encounters To World Champion

World Championships: From Cafe Encounters To World Champion For Matt Richards

Matt Richards was 13 when he had a chance encounter at the Ponds Forge café during the 2016 Summer Nationals.

Richards was there in Sheffield with dad Simon and mum Amanda and they got talking to a fellow parent.

Richards – speaking to Swimming World in August 2020 – took up the story:

“We were chatting about swimming and he began chatting with us and we were like ‘have you got anybody down here?’ And he was like ‘no, my boy’s in Rio.’

“We were like ‘that’s amazing – who’s your son?’

“He was like ‘James Guy’ and we were like ‘WHAT? Insane.’”

Fast-forward to 2023 and Richards – now 20 – became only the second Briton to win the 200 free world title with a 1:44.30 Welsh record , eight years after James Guy graced the top of the podium at Kazan 2015.

Behind him – just 0.02 adrift in 1:44.32 – came Tom Dean as the pair secured a British one-two, a little under two years after he did the same with Duncan Scott at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hwang Sunwoo was third in 1:44.42 with defending champion David Popovici locked out in 1:44.90.

Richards and Dean will reunite in the 4×2 relay alongside Guy and Scott, 10 years after the pair were part of the British squad that won the title for the first time in Kazan when Richards was 12.

From Tenerife To The Top Table

Richards’ water odyssey began at five-years-old on a family holiday in Tenerife.

Disgruntled by having to wear armbands in the pool while older children didn’t, he marched up to his parents, told them he’d had enough and threw the armbands on the chair.

Whereupon he turned and ran, throwing himself into the deep end to his parents’ terror with Simon jumping in after the child who suffered no ill-effects.

Instead, that holiday fostered a love of the water that 11 years later in 2019 would see Richards become European junior 100m freestyle champion in Kazan, Russia, in a time of 48.88.

There was silver in the 200 free in 1:47.23 and bronze in the freestyle relay as the 16-year-old further underlined his potential with the Tokyo Olympics then a year away.

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Matt Richards: Photo Courtesy: Morgan Harlow/British Swimming

The Games were postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic three months after Richards turned 17, heralding changes for the teenager.

He moved training base from the Royal School, Wolverhampton, where he’d been guided by Marc Spackman and Tom Elgar since he was 13, to Jol Finck at Bath Performance Centre.

Training alongside Guy and Dean in Bath, Richards was part of the British 4×2 relay squad that won gold in Tokyo, just 0.03 outside the world record of 6:58.55 that has stood to the USA since the super-suited 2009 worlds.

However, his performances were falling short of previous years and he made a big switch between the 2022 World Championships and Commonwealth Games weeks later when he moved to Millfield to work with Ryan Livingstone.

The partnership clearly has some alchemy with the 20-year-old becoming the first man to hit a freestyle treble of 21/47/1:44 at the British trials in Sheffield.

There was 21.98 in the 50, 47.72 in the 100 and 1:44.83 in the 200 to do something even the likes of Pieter van den Hoogenband didn’t achieve during his illustrious career.

On Tuesday, he lowered his PB further, moving from third at 150 past Popovici and Hwang to touch in 1:44.30.

He now stands ninth in the all-time rankings and paid tribute to Livingstone, saying:

“It’s been a long process, these things don’t happen overnight.

“My coach Ryan Livingstone has been incredible, all season long he’s been phenomenal.

“I can’t thank him enough.

“But hopefully this is the first of what will be many medals and success.

“It’s pretty awesome to come away with my first individual gold.”

Popovici was 0.79 ahead of Hwang at the 150 with Richards 0.99 adrift and Dean 1.12 behind.

Matt Richards 5

Matt Richards: Photo Courtesy: Morgan Harlow/British Swimming

However, the 18-year-old swam the slowest final split of 28.12 and was locked out of the podium.

Richards – out in lane two between Hwang and Kieran Smith – wasn’t aware of the Romanian and instead focused on executing his race plan.

He said:

“Something Ryan and I spoke about before is that swimming isn’t a sport like boxing, nobody’s going to come in and hit you in the face.

“It’s all about what you do in your lane.

“So that’s what it was about: just maintaining my own race plan, executing the plan we’d set out and fundamentally that’s why I came out on top.”

Tip Of The Hat To Popovici

At 18, Popovici has won two world titles and risen to third fastest all-time in 1:42.97 behind only Michael Phelps (1:42.96) and Paul Biedermann with his 1:42.00 WR.

The pair will meet once more in the 100 free in which Popovici is the fastest man in history, with a soaring 46.86 at last year’s European Championships.

Richards said:

“Hats off to David.

“It’s been a pleasure watching him over the last two years and absolutely a pleasure being able to race in the lanes across from him in this championships.

“I’m sure it won’t be the last time the two of us will go head to head.”

Dean added silver to bronze at last year’s worlds in Budapest and with a nod to Tokyo, he said:

“It seems to be every time we step on Japanese soil, we get a 1-2 in the 200m free!

“It’s almost a carbon copy of the Tokyo Olympics, just the other way round this time for me.”

Dean Relishing British Quality As Quartet Reunite

Dean has the 200IM prelims and semis to come on Wednesday and – should all go to plan – the final on Thursday before the 4×2 on Friday.

Tom Dean 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.

Tom Dean: Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Since Guy and Scott were part of the winning 2015 squad, the pair have shared a relay podium on four occasions at two Olympics – including 4×2 gold in Tokyo – and five times at World Championships.

Scott described Guy as a leader, someone who has “been at the forefront of that – the success in the 4×2.

Britain is blessed with depth of quality over four lengths

Dean said:

“One-two at the Olympics. One-two at the World Championships two years later.

“It’s brilliant for the country, it’s brilliant for the men’s 4×200 freestyle and it’s brilliant for Paris.”





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