Great Britain’s Mixed 4x100m Freestyle Relay team took the bronze medal in a new European record time to close the penultimate day of competition at the World Championships in Fukuoka, as Ben Proud also added to the overall medal tally with a bronze of his own in the Men’s 50m Freestyle.
While Proud's sprint freestyle success means he has made podiums at each of the last four major international competitions - and six including two World Short Course Championships - the relay result is the first time that GB have won a World Championship medal in the mixed freestyle event.
The relay team of Matt Richards, Duncan Scott, Anna Hopkin and Freya Anderson took to the blocks for the final event of Saturday’s packed finals session, following efforts from Lucy Hope, Tom Dean and Jacob Whittle in the heats to get them to a seed of lane six for the race in-front of a near packed out crowd at the Marine Messe Fukuoka.
Richards led the group out following his British record in the individual event earlier in the week, as he quickly established himself up with the USA and Australian first swimmers as they hit the wall, handing over to Scott with the team in second place.
Duncan then put in the second-fastest split of the entire field to see GB into the lead as the halfway stage of the race hit – sending Hopkin into the water with just under a half body-length lead on the chasing teams to her right hand side.
After a solid first 50m to keep them at bay, Hopkin - who had contested the individual 50m Freestyle semi-finals earlier in the session - ultimately reached the wall in third, as she passed to Anderson with the team in control of a medal position. That was how they would stay after Freya anchored them home well to a new British and European record time of 3:21.68.
The result is Hopkin’s first ever medal at a World Championships, and Anderson’s second following a similar relay success in 2019. Scott and Richards both take their third medal of this year's competition.
Reflecting on the podium moment following a couple of near-misses in the women's freestyle relays, Freya said: “It's really nice. We've had two fourth places in the women's freestyle relays, and I was anchoring them both. That has been on my mind, what I could've done differently, so it's been about forgetting about that, refocusing for these guys and getting the job done, which we all did. So yeah, I'm pretty happy!”
Richards echoed Anderson’s thoughts as he added to what has been an already amazing week for the 20-year-old.
“It was a great race and I think we all put together a really good swim there for what has been a busy meet for all four of us. It's great to come away with a medal in that, and Duncan was saying that that's the first time we've ever medalled in that as a country, so it's a great performance for the team and gives us plenty of momentum going into the final day tomorrow," he said.
Meanwhile, two-time Worlds gold medallist Ben Proud headlined the British individual effort on day seven as he took bronze in the Men’s 50m Freestyle.
Having won the event at the last edition of the World Championships in 2022, Proud went into the event as one of the favourites for the medals following a controlled semi-final performance that saw him start from lane three for the opening race of the night.
Coming up nearly half-a-body length ahead of the field in his semi-final, it was clear from the get-go that the 28-year-old would not have it all his own way in the showpiece event, as he came up level with the eventual winner Cameron McEvoy at the 15m mark, McEvoy ultimately powering clear.
Despite challenges from every lane as the length progressed, his stroke rate and power held true to keep him within those top three places with the finish in sight – lunging to the wall to touch in third, just 0.01 seconds off USA’s Jack Alexy, who took silver.
Proud, who is still the reigning European and Commonwealth champion in the event, was happy with his performance and his general feelings in the pool ahead of next year’s Paris Olympic Games, as he targets reaching an Olympic podium for the first time.
“It feels great. Coming back off last year, I wanted to still do well. I dove into the race and saw where McEvoy was, he was a clear winner, so I was just racing for that podium. So I'm really pleased - that was a nice swim to do, that was a competitive field and I'm glad to get my hand on the wall. Not much happens in the race, but a lot happens behind the scenes, a lot of work goes into the small details so that when you dive into the race, you know what you're doing," he said.
“I feel in a good place. There's still more work to do, but it's nice to come to Worlds and get another medal for the team. It's nice to play that part.”
Also in individual finals action was 19-year-old Katie Shanahan, as she put in a spirited performance to take fourth in the Women’s 200m Backstroke final in a new personal best time.
Going from lane six, she took a controlled approach to the race from the start – sitting on the feet of the leaders in the lanes to her inside whilst controlling the race from those in the outside lanes.
Turning at both the first and second turns level with the pack chasing the front three, she made her move down the final 100m, making ground on almost every other athlete with every passing stroke.
Breaking away from the chasing pack down the final length, Shanahan moved into a clear fourth place as they came into the wall – touching in fourth in that new PB of 2:07.45, not far off bronze medallist Peng Xuwei of China.
In what is her first World Championships, the European silver medallist in the event was happy with a swim that saw her as the highest European finisher this time round.
“I'm delighted with that. Coming into that tonight, I had no expectations, no pressure at all, so I was just going in to see what I could do in my first world final, so to come away with a PB and fourth place, I can't really complain," she said.
“I know I'm not a million miles away from the times that those girls are doing, and I think it's looking really exciting for next year and the Olympics. One of the aims me and Steve [coach Steven Tigg] spoke about coming in here was just to see where I'm measuring up against the rest of the world for next year, so that event is looking good.”
Shanahan still has the Women’s 400m Individual Medley to go tomorrow, where her and Freya Colbert will look to finish their Worlds programmes with a couple of eye-catching swims.
“I am looking forward to that. My training for the last few months has been based around coming out of this final and back into the 400m IM tomorrow morning.
“It's not the easiest of events but it's an event that's quite wide open in the world at the moment, so hopefully I can do a solid heats swim, get in that final and then see what I can do tomorrow night.”
Prior to her medal-winning performance in the relay, Hopkin also went in the semi-finals of the Women’s 50m Freestyle. Despite failing to improve on her time in the heats, she finished in 13th place – just 0.06 seconds away from a place in the final.
Daniel Jervis rounded off his programme for the week earlier in the day as he contested the heats of the Men’s 1500m Freestyle. In what was a packed field, the Commonwealth medallist put in a spirited performance to close his account in 14th place overall.
HOW TO WATCH, LISTEN AND FOLLOW
- Live online broadcast coverage of every session is available via the All Aquatics platform (or the World Aquatics Recast Channel).
- You can listen to live radio commentary of all the finals on BBC Radio 5Live, 5Live Sports Extra and BBC Sounds.
- Meanwhile, our 'What's On?' page provides links to schedules, results and more