Richards and Dean secure stunning world gold and silver

25 Jul 2023

Matt Richards and Tom Dean claimed Great Britain’s first swimming medals of the World Aquatics Championships in unforgettable style as they secured a historic one-two finish in a show-stopping Men’s 200m Freestyle final on the third night of swimming in Fukuoka.

The two Brits lit up the Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall A with outstanding swims in the opening event of the finals session, both Richards and Dean producing emphatic charges down the last 25 metres to get the better of those athletes in the centre lanes who had the lead in the lengths prior and claiming Britain's first gold-silver double in this event at a World Championships, two years after Dean and Duncan Scott did the same at the Olympic Games. 

Keeping within striking distance of David Popovici (Romania) and Sunwoo Hwang (South Korea) down the opening half of the race, the duo - both Olympic champions in the 4x200m Freestyle Relay - stayed on the hips of the leaders down the third length of the race from lanes two and six respectively, before eyeing a move towards the front as the race concluded.

With last year’s world champion Popovici fading and Hwang beginning to falter, the Brits both moved alongside the pair with the touchpad in sight – moving clear of the competition to touch in unison.

Richards did enough to get his hand to the wall first and take his first world title - in his first individual global final - in a new personal best time of 1:44.30, with reigning Olympic champion Dean a mere two hundredths of a second behind him in 1:44.32. The result replicates the gold and silver medal won by Great Britain on Japanese soil at the Olympics two years ago, when Dean and Scott took the plaudits over in Tokyo.

Both men are set to tackle the distance again as part of the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay, with this result being nothing but encouraging for the group as they get their campaign underway in that event on Friday.      

Reflecting on his world title swim, Matt said: "It's definitely a pretty cool feeling! I said after Tokyo, being part of the 4x200m Free relay gold, that the next step for me was trying to win individual medals. Last year was a bit of a setback for me, it wasn't going my way, but I made some changes and learned a lot from a tough year - so it feels pretty incredible now to be stood on top of the podium, a year out from an Olympics again, it fills me with a lot of confidence, but the work is far from done yet.

"We've still got guys like David Popovici going 1:42s, so a 1:44.3 is great, but that may not be enough to win it next year. This is just the beginning of a two-year cycle into the Games, we've got a big step of work to do now to get to where we want to be next year. 

"It's pretty special. Me and Tom were chatting just before we got our medals, it's got to be one of the most dominant events for a country in the history of the sport. Our 4x200m relay in a few days time, we've got two individual world champions, an individual Olympic champion and a guy, Duncan Scott, who's had world and Olympic medals on that event multiple times. It's definitely a really dominant event for us, but it's incredible for me to have my turn on top of that podium and hopefully continue that success going forwards."

Matt Richards 200m Free Fukuoka celebration [GettyImages]
Richards ignited the Fukuoka crowd

Dean - who has now won Olympic gold (2021), World Championship silver (2023) and World Championship bronze (2022) in this event over the past 24 months - added: "Seems to be every time we step on Japanese soil, we get a 1-2 in the 200m Free! It's almost a carbon copy of the Tokyo Olympics, just the other way around this time for me. I was just saying to Matt, I can't think of another country that's been this dominant in one event for a number of years now. 1-2 at the Olympics, 1-2 at the World Champs two years later, it's brilliant for the country, it's brilliant for the Men's 4x200m Free and it's brilliant for Paris.

"I was breathing the other way so I didn't see the other boys! I was just 'get your head down, work for that last wall'. I've had so many people come up to me and say, 'that was a great race!', I wish I could've watched it, but unfortunately I was in it.

"That last 50m, you just have to go hell for leather, give everything you possibly can and hope you can get your hand on the wall first. There was about 0.10 secs between the top three boys, so a really, really tight race."

Medi Harris was the other athlete of British interest in finals on the night, as she put in a strong effort to improve on her placing in the Women’s 100m Backstroke.

Qualifying for the event in eighth place, alongside athletes with a heap of international success and experience, Harris put in a similar performance to that of her semi-final swim. Taking it out fast next to those around her, the Welsh athlete kept within the mix as the race hit the halfway stage thanks to some effective underwater work and a strong outward effort.

Maintaining this pace through her breakout on the turn, the 20-year-old drove it home to close in seventh place in the world - as she did last year in Budapest - and add yet another finals appearance at an international championships to her achievements.

Freya Anderson opened her individual account for these Championships by making the final of the Women’s 200m Freestyle with good value, setting a new personal best time in the process.

The 22-year-old, who is the European silver medallist in the event, looked in control of her performance through all four lengths of the pool in her semi-final after qualifying in a comfortable seventh place from the heats earlier in the day.

Looking a step-up on every level from the swim that got her in to the semi-finals, Anderson swam her own race against that of the two Australians who led the field throughout – managing strong efforts from those in the adjacent lanes in what turned out to be the faster of the two semi-finals.

Following a strong first half that put her in great contention for a spot in the final with 100 metres to go, the Olympic champion unlocked some more pace to keep challenges from the lanes to her far side at bay and finish in a time of 1:55.85.

Freya Anderson 200 free semi Fukuoka 2023
Anderson will be back for the final tomorrow

"I did what I was asked to do. We shouldn't focus on the outcome, but I would've liked a quicker time. But I've got another chance to do it tomorrow in the final, I'm pretty made up to make that final and hopefully I can progress from there," she said.

"Especially in the 200m Freestyle, it comes a lot down to tactics, so it's a bit of both - knowing your own strengths and your own race plan, and not going around the others around you. You look at them and stuff, but you have to just stick to your guns.

"I don't even think I've come down from Tom and Matt's race! I was watching it just before I got into warm-up, I had the shakes! It was amazing - it's a good night for GB, I'm buzzing for them and hopefully it gets the ball rolling."

The result is enough for an overall ranking of sixth, which lines her up in lane seven for the opening women’s event of the fourth night. Anderson’s compatriot Abbie Wood also went with her in the heats for the event – placing 18th overall and just missing out on progression to the semi-finals.

The morning’s heats also saw representation from Britain’s athletes, with Luke Turley and Daniel Jervis contesting the Men's 800m Freestyle heats, finishing 22nd and 23rd respectively in what were some fast-paced races as the men’s distance events in the pool got underway.