By David Williams
Matt Richards has revealed how going back to school helped the 20-year-old Welsh swimming star become world champion.
Richards was part of British Swimming’s national performance centre, based in Bath, but decided to make a switch after some below par performances in 2022.
He opted to train, instead at Millfield – a public school in Somerset, renowned for its sporting excellence and where a young Gareth Edwards honed his craft as a rugby player.
The outcome was a rejuvenated Richards under coach Ryan Livingstone, who went on to take gold at the World Championships in Japan in the 200m freestyle in July.
In an interview with Dai Sport’s Liz Byrnes for Swimming World magazine, Wales’ Commonwealth Games ace said: “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.”
Already a teenage Olympic champion in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay in Tokyo, Richards is set to defend that title and go for individual glory in Paris next year.
His biggest rival for Olympic glory could well be the Romanian David Popovici, the current European champion and 2022 world champion as both 100m and 200m freestyle.
Richards says he is looking forward to his rivalry with 19-year-old Popovici, which will continue before Paris with the European Short-Course Championships.
He added: “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.”
If Popovici gets Richards fired up now, he says his inspiration when he was coming through the ranks as a youngster was Britain’s breaststroke king Adam Peaty and American Olympic legend Michael Phelps.
“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.”
Paris will not be the only big date, Richards has to look forward in his calendar for 2024.
Immediately after the Olympics, he plans to get married to fellow GB swimmer Emily Large, who is also based at Millfield.
“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.”
He also became engaged to fellow UK teamer Emily Large late last year, and was named MBE. pic.twitter.com/TFk7wCDiEN
— Braden Keith (@Braden_Keith) August 25, 2023