Duncan Scott, Matt Richards, James Guy and Tom Dean combined to take Great Britain’s second gold medal of the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in the swimming, as they put in an exceptional performance to come out on top in the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay on the sixth day of pool action in Fukuoka.
Following a strong heats swim by Joe Litchfield to open things up in the heats - meaning he becomes a world champion for the first time - Guy then came in for the final to reunite the quartet that took gold in the event at the Tokyo Olympics two years prior as they went for glory once again on the world stage.
Scott, the 200m Individual Medley silver medallist from yesterday, led the race off for the team – sitting on the hips of the USA’s opening swimmer to put in a controlled performance and handover to Richards with the team well in the mix for the lead.
The 200m Freestyle title holder from earlier in the week did well to take the lead as the race hit the halfway stage – edging in front of a handful of nations who were within a body-length of the 20-year-old on the touch.
With Guy in on the penultimate leg, the race quickly turned into a direct battle for the lead between the British quartet and the USA in the adjacent lane. With the pace being turned up by the Jake Mitchell from the chasing team, James - the 2015 world champion in the individual event - kept his cool and handed over to Dean with just under half-a body-length lead with 200m to go.
It was on the anchor leg where Dean so often flourishes, with today being no exception. The reigning 200m Freestyle Olympic champion produced the fastest split of the group - a 1:43.84 - to hold off what was a spirited fightback from the American Kieran Smith as the race came to its conclusion – with the 23-year-old touching for gold in a time of 6:59.08, just outside the world record and their own European best time.
The result gives Dean a medal of every colour from this competition as his tally increases to three, with Richards and Scott on two following their respective gold and silver from their individual events, and Guy taking his first medal of the meet and his 11th World Championship medal overall.
Reflecting on the world title, Tom said: "We knew this was going to be probably our strongest relay of the whole meet, and I knew that when the four boys came together, something special would happen like it did last time we were in Japan."
James - who has now medalled at five successive World Championships - added: "We won it in Tokyo and tonight, I think we knew we were the favourites deep down, but we're not taking things for granted. It was nice to win but, like Matt said, the world record was in the back of our minds a little bit - but everything happens for a reason.
"Winning tonight was really, really nice, this is our first time together since Tokyo, and it shows that we're in a great place which hopefully we can build on that for Paris.
"At the end of the day, it's about enjoying what we're doing. We're racing the best guys in the world on the world stage, it's an honour to do that for your country. Hopefully we can progress that next year and progress with our individual swims."
The Men’s 50m Freestyle saw Ben Proud return to the pool for what was a solid semi-final performance from the British record-holder, as he eased through to the final in terrific style.
The reigning world, European and Commonwealth champion in the event went in lane six for the first semi-final, as he looked to make what would be a fifth successive 50m Freestyle showpiece at a World Championships.
Having by far the best start of the field, the 28-year-old always had a firm grip on the race as the length progressed – coming up at 15 metres nearly half a body length ahead of the field. This lead was maintained up until the race hit the flags, where he was pipped to the touch by the USA’s Jack Alexy.
Improving on his time from the heats, Proud will take lane three for the final tomorrow night as he qualifies in third place overall as he looks to be the first British man to win back-to-back world titles in the event.
He gave a levelled take of his performance following the race, with a nod towards those who will be challenging him for that title under the lights on Saturday.
“I was happy with that. Going into the first semi, I knew I had to pull out something respectable to get myself through, and that's safely done. There's a clear favourite right now in Cam McEvoy, so coming up tomorrow night, I'll be next to him and it'll be good to give him a good race.
“It changes every time. The final tomorrow is very different to what we thought it was going to be. So now it's a matter of getting job done, getting some rest and then coming back tomorrow to see how it goes. We've nothing to lose.”
Proud’s compatriot Lewis Burras went in the heats for the event earlier in the day, with the 23-year-old just missing out on a place in the semi-finals, placing 22nd.
Katie Shanahan added to the British efforts from the day as she ensured that she would be returning for the final of the Women’s 200m Backstroke with what has come to be a textbook performance for the European medallist in the event.
Going out from lane five in the first semi-final, the 19 year-old put in a controlled swim on her way to the final – allowing China’s Xuwei Peng to take the race out as she stayed within a body-length of her throughout the four lengths of action.
Always improving on her placing in the race as each turn passed, she rounded off her performance by out-touching Canada’s Kylie Masse to finish the race in what looked to be a comfortable second place – improving on her time from the heats and booking her spot in the final in fourth place overall.
Giving her thoughts after the race, Shanahan gave a unique insight into how she attacked the event and what it means for her as she gears up to take to the pool again on what will be the penultimate day of competition.
“I'm really happy with that, to make my first World Championship final. Hopefully tomorrow night I can go a bit faster, I'd have liked to have been a bit faster, but it's kind of about managing it through the rounds and making sure I'm in the final tomorrow - and that's when I'll give it my best effort, so hopefully tomorrow it'll be a fast time.
“I'm known for not really front-ending my 200m Back, I always back-end it and I tried to not get too in my head when I saw that Kylie and Peng were that far ahead of me. I just had to back myself knowing I can come back fast.”
"After missing out on the 200m IM final on Sunday because I got DQ'd, it was a bit disappointing, but to come back, I was just raring to go again and was hungry to make another final, so I'm really happy to do that."
Prior to Guy’s outing in the 4x200m Freestyle relay, he and Jacob Peters went in the semi-finals of the Men’s 100m Butterfly. With Guy qualifying in eleventh and Peters having to win a swim-off to get out of the heats, they both put in valiant efforts in what was a stacked field.
Getting one of the better starts in the first of the two semi-finals, Peters got his hand to the wall in third at the halfway stage as he went in lane eight – doing well to get out of the commotion from the adjacent lanes and in-line with the leaders in the middle.
Coming in to the wall, he improved on his initial time from the heats to finish in fourth place, and an overall twelfth place.
Guy had a similarly impressive performance start in his semi-final, as he went out fastest from lane seven to touch in the lead at 50 metres, before being caught in similar fashion and ending up in sixth place – also missing out on qualification for the final as the overall tenth fastest finisher.
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