By Hannah Blackwell
Matt Richards and Medi Harris have put Welsh swimming on the world stage once more after more notable achievements for the pair at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan.
Richards broke the men’s 100m freestyle British record on a night that saw five Brits qualify for World Championship finals.
The mixed 4x100m medley quartet of Harris, James Wilby, Jacob Peters and Anna Hopkin, meanwhile, placed fifth in the world as they looked to secure a Paris 2024 spot in that event for GB, while Freya Anderson was seventh in the final of the women’s 200m Freestyle.
The stand-out British swim of day four came early in the session, as Wales’ Commonwealth Games star Richards lowered the British record in the men’s 100m freestyle for a second time in the day to qualify fastest for the final in Fukuoka.
World Championships, Day Four Semifinals: Matt Richards Breaks British Record in 100 Freestyle; Kyle Chalmers Lurking https://t.co/CZ331Pvm7d
— Swimming World (@SwimmingWorld) July 26, 2023
The newly-crowned 200m freestyle world champion – the first Welsh swimmer to be achieve that status – clocked a 47.59 in the morning’s heats to become the fastest British man ever over two lengths of the pool.
And he was in even more impressive form in the semi-final, showing the same perfect pacing from Tuesday night to finish strongly and touch ahead of Australia’s Kyle Chalmers in a time of 47.47, securing lane four as he goes in search of a historic 100m-200m freestyle double.
Reflecting on two professional displays on the day and securing the new best-ever GB time, Richards said: “Coming into this today, it was all about progressing through the rounds, trying to swim smart – that was what got us the win last night, being smart with how we raced it.
“So that’s what it’s been about in both of those, getting the job done to get a place for tomorrow. Getting lane four is great, it should be a really good race, it’s another stacked field – I’m just really excited to get going again.
“Something we really prepared for was trying to be as stable emotionally as possible after the win in the 200m freestyle, to allow us to have as much energy as possible again in this 100m.
“And likewise, regardless of the outcome tomorrow, good or bad, the same will stand – we’ll try to stay as emotionally stable as we can to get ready for the relays at the back-end of the week.”
Yesterday Matt Richards became the first Welsh swimmer to win an individual World Championship gold medal.
— Sport Wales (@sportwales) July 26, 2023
The session was closed with the mixed medley relay, an always-popular event in which Britain remain Olympic champions and world-record holders from Tokyo 2020.
Harris, Wilby, Peters and Hopkin swam both the heats and final on the day, dropping time in the final to place fifth overall and clock a time that they will hope can secure an Olympic berth in 12 months time.
“This exact team swam in the Europeans last year, we had a lot of fun doing that, we were all very tired after the back-to-back meets we’d had last summer,” said Wilby after the race.
“So doing it again this year helps to refine little things, even if it’s just as simple as how each other go into the wall as we do takeovers, because whatever the team looks like next year, that could be really important potentially for relay alternates if it comes to that.
“Everything like that really matters when it comes to trying to win big medals. We are here doing a job this year, we’re ticking boxes for the bigger team, and that’s hopefully done this time.”
In the men’s 200m individual medley, there will be two Brits in Thursday’s final as Duncan Scott and Tom Dean both secured lanes.
Scott, fastest in the morning heats, is the second-quickest into the final after his usual dominant finish on the freestyle leg, the six-time Olympic medallist staying in touch over the opening 100m and pulling back on some rivals down the breaststroke lap before the pacey freestyle.
whenever i see matt richards swim i just think about this interview pic.twitter.com/s5fo4Z7LGr
— swim tweets (@legendecky) July 26, 2023
And after missing out on last year’s Worlds after illness, Scott is relishing being back in a global showpiece.
“There are a lot of the boys in there I’ve not raced before, missing last year, so it’s good to get in there and race them ahead of next year in Paris. That’s the main reason why I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, it’s why I wanted a good lane as well, really just to get a sense of what it’s like,” he said.
“I’m really happy I moved it on and see where I can make some changes ahead of tomorrow. Deano has already had a great week, Marchand speaks for himself, Carson is swimming well, Seto – it’s going to be pretty good fun, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Scott raced in the second semi-final, with Dean having done his work in the opening semi to ultimately qualify seventh.
Like Scott, two-time Olympic gold medallist Dean – who took silver in Tuesday’s 200m freestyle finale, behind Richards – finished fiercely on the freestyle to get the job done after finding himself with some distance to make up, ultimately qualifying seventh.
Medi Harris will also be back for finals action after she swam the backstroke leg of the mixed medley relay to qualify fifth into the final!🙌 https://t.co/KH72Yoh37C
— Swim Wales (@SwimWales) July 26, 2023
Laura Stephens looked in great form as she qualified for the final of the women’s 200m butterfly.
In both her heats and semi-final swims, the David Hemmings-coached butterfly specialist took the race out well to lead at 150m, holding on down the home straight to complete a pair of composed swims.
Qualifying sixth overall into the world final, Stephens feels she is in a good place to move things on again when it really matters.
“I’m really happy with that. Both swims were really solid today, so I’m just going to build on that into tomorrow, and hopefully I can put something really fast together tomorrow night,” she said.
“This is my third World Champs now, so I do feel like I’m a lot more experienced and a lot more relaxed than I ever was before. I’m just trying to use that as much as I can as I go through the rounds, and I’m really excited for the final!”
— Swim Wales (@SwimWales) July 26, 2023