Gold medallist Matthew Richards of Team Great Britain reacts during the medal ceremony for the Men's 200m Freestyle Final. Pic: Getty Images.

Matt Richards . . . Wales’ New King Of The World At 20

By David Williams

Matt Richards has revealed he feels “incredible” after becoming Wales’ first swimming world champion.

The 20-year-old won the 200m freestyle gold at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan on Tuesday to become one of the global superstars of the sport.

Richards – already an Olympic champion with Great Britain in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay – finished ahead of fellow Briton and Olympic champion Tom Dean, who took sliver.

In an epic race, he also beat the reigning world champion David Popovici of Romania, who finished fourth, as well as bronze medalist South Korea’s Hwang Sun-woo.

Richards beat Dean by just 0.02 seconds in a time of one minute and 44.30secs after the Team Wales Commonwealth Games star had turned third at 150 metres.

But a brilliant last 50 metres, swum in just 26.53secs, saw Richards power through to take gold ahead of his star-studded rivals.

“I’m over the moon,” said Richards, who was born in Worcestershire, but chose to swim for Wales, the country of his father, Simon.

“That was a hell of a race, probably one of the most stacked 200 freestyle fields ever. It’s awesome to land a 1-2 for Great Britain one year out from Paris and after Tom and Duncan did it in Paris.

“I was lucky to be breathing to the right down the last length so I could see where everyone was. We got the job done and I can’t wait for the relay.”

The rising star of British swimming was crowned Olympic champion at the age of just 18 when he was part of the team that took gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo in 2021.

It was the natural progression for a former European Junior champion who looked destined for the very top.

Then, in 2022, Richards experienced the first real setback of his career, underperforming at both the World Championships and then the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where he was hoping to win some silverware for Wales.

Based at Bath, where Olympic 200m freestyle champion Tom Dean trains, among others, many would have just put it down to a dip in form. Richards had other ideas, however.

Conscious that the set-up was not working, he made the bold decision to move an hour down the road to Millfield – a school with incredible facilities but no elite swimming squad in place.

It was the move he had to make.

“Last year was a really tough one, coming off the back of a very successful 2021,” said Richards, who trains alongside fiancée Emily Large at Millfield.

“It was tough to take a step back, and in fact, quite a few steps back in both the 100 and the 200 (freestyle).

“There were lots of lessons throughout the season, lots of things I have learned and taken away with me with what I do now. I’ve made some changes in terms of my training base, my team I’ve got around me and I’m very happy with where I am right now.

“It’s definitely a pretty cool feeling.

“I said after Tokyo being part of that 4×2 gold that the next step for me was winning individual medals.

“Last year was a bit of a setback for me. It wasn’t quite going my way but I made some changes and learned a lot from a tough year.

“It feels pretty incredible now to be stood on top of the podium a year out from the Olympics.”

 

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