By David Williams
Matt Richards is “fearless” and could thrive under the pressure of having a “target on his back” according to Great Britain swimming legend Mark Foster.
As Richards basks in the glory of becoming Wales’ first swimming world champion and one of the global stars of the sport, Foster believes the new 200m freestyle world champion can cope with the pressure of more attention.
Richards ensured his status as a marked man after clinching glory at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan by edging out Olympic champion Tom Dean.
The 20-year-old produced an outstanding finish on Tuesday to pip fellow Briton Dean to gold in a time of one minute and 44.30 seconds, while previous title holder David Popovici – the race favourite – had to settle for fourth.
MATT RICHARDS, WOOOOOORLD CHAMPION!!!
— Team GB (@TeamGB) July 25, 2023
Former world, European and Commonwealth champion Foster is excited by the depth of British swimming talent and Richards’ potential for further development.
“He’s got a lot of speed,” the 53-year-old said. “I think we’re going to see a lot more out of him on the 100m (freestyle).
“Tom’s a fast swimmer but Matt’s faster and got a little bit more easy speed to go out (from the start).
“He’s a bit fearless. He’s improving a lot, he’s improving very fast, which is really exciting. How much more can he improve?
“But the interesting thing is going from being ‘Dave’ who is a relay swimmer to suddenly beating the Olympic champion and becoming world champion himself – now he’s got a bit of target on his back.
“That’s going to be the interesting thing to see how he copes with that. It might even push him to go faster.
“I’m really excited to see what he can do, not just on the 100 freestyle but the 200 freestyle and also those relay events, which are just key for us.”
😯 Spine-tingling commentary.
🥇 Matt Richards wins GOLD for 🇬🇧 GB at the @WorldAquatics
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) July 25, 2023
Richards’ stunning performance in Fukuoka came a year and a day before the start of Paris 2024.
Alongside Dean, he was part of the triumphant men’s 4×200m freestyle relay at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in 2021, where Britain enjoyed their most successful Games in the pool by winning eight medals, including four golds.
Foster has tipped Team GB’s swimmers to surpass that record-breaking total next year in the French capital.
“From what I’ve seen at the moment, we’ll do better,” he said.
“There’s no guarantees in sport but if I were to list medals that I think we will get, I’d give us more than leading in to Tokyo.
“Eight is a good figure to start from but how much we get above that, I don’t know. I think it will be beaten. If we get there or thereabouts that’s a great result but I think we’ll go a couple more.
“For me, it’s really exciting that it’s not just one or two events that we’re good at.
“Even if we come fifth or sixth in an event, we’ve got someone in there, whereas historically – I’m going back to when I swam – we had a handful of swimmers that could do something. Now we’ve got three handfuls.”