Richards relishing the buzz ahead of World Champs

16 Jun 2023

One month out from the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, and with the Olympic 'one year to go' mark on the horizon, Matt Richards can definitely feel "the buzz" around the British Swimming team. 

Richards and the rest of the Worlds-bound swimming group are gearing up for next month's event with a short training camp in Reims, France - where the Olympic team will be based ahead of Paris 2024 next summer - before heading on to a key racing opportunity at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome (23rd-25th June).

With the clock ticking to a massive World Championships and the momentous spectacle of a Games full of spectators again, Olympic gold medallist Matt shares in the feeling of anticipation building about what could be possible in the pool.

But the Ryan Livingstone-coached athlete knows that this excitement also brings with it a need to step things up as the business end of this Olympic cycle approaches.

"There is that little buzz that goes about the group. At Trials (British Championships) this year, we all know that we're a year out from qualifying for Paris, and that makes that Champs and that whole arena just that little bit more intense," says Richards.

"Ahead of next year, we've got a lot of work to do, all of us. The relays especially, nobody is going to hand those over to us - the Men's 4x100m Freestyle and 4x200m Freestyle, we are right in the mix, but there are however many countries out there full of other lads who are looking at us with targets on our backs.

"There is a lot of work to be done individually and in terms of those relays too for all of us. Once you get this close and you get that year out, it starts to make it feel a little bit more real. And especially once this year's Worlds are done, you'll hear a lot of people talking about the 'Olympic shift'."

First up, of course, are those World Championships in Japan. The event gets underway on 14th July, with the swimming programme diving into action on 23rd July. 

Among Matt's focuses in Fukuoka will be once again contributing to some big relay efforts - and there is no hiding his ambitions for what the teams could achieve in the next few weeks.

"There's a lot of excitement. That World 4x200m Freestyle gold and definitely the world record too, that has eluded us. We got it in Tokyo, the gold but not the world record, we were so close but couldn't quite snatch it," he adds.

Men's 4x200m Freestyle GOLD Tokyo 2020
Matt Richards (far right) was part of the history-making Men's 4x200m Freestyle Relay team in Tokyo

"Last year, we were a bit all over the place - I wasn't swimming well at all, Duncan [Scott] wasn't there and that left Jimmy [Guy], Deano [Tom Dean], Whittle [Jacob Whittle] and Joe [Litchfield] to come together and get the bronze.

"But looking ahead to this year, we have got two guys going 1:44, two guys going 1:45, two guys going 1:46 and God knows how many other guys going sub-1:50 at trials. You look at that event now and there is a lot to be said about what we're going to be bringing to the table at Worlds this year in that.

"And then the 4x100m Freestyle Relay, we haven't got form for winning that event, we've not got form for winning medals in that event. I don't actually know when was the last time we won a medal in that. 

"Right now, off the back of trials and looking not only at the results but also the form a lot of our guys have got on relays, we've got a very, very strong team for that - and I do think it's going to take a lot from any of the other countries around the world to try to take us down on that." 

Those relay groups will get some valuable bonding time, alongside every member of the 29-strong swimming group set for Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall A, when the team meet tomorrow for their first experience of the Union national des centres sportifs de plein air (UCPA), where the Olympic team will train on their pre-Paris 2024 holding camp next summer. 

"It's great. Especially as we get closer to the big meets like World Championships and Olympics, the holding camp is usually the only time us relay boys and everyone get a chance to go head-to-head, practice our takeovers and just build that camaraderie within the group - play some cards together, all that sort of stuff, the usual excitement!" explains Matt.

"That's usually one of the only times we get to do it, so it's quite nice that this year, we'll have the holding camp in Japan ahead of Worlds and then a separate mini-camp before it, as well as being able to come together and go head-to-head at it at that Sette Colli meet in Italy."

Richards' Sette Colli programme features the triple of Men's 50m, 100m and 200m Freestyle following successful outings in all three events at British Championships - including a dramatic victory and qualification time secured in the longest of those distances.

Matt Richards thumbs up 200m Free QT BSC 2023 MH
A thumbs up from Matt

Not that the multiple European medallist will be overly concerned with results in Rome, in what is a crucial racing opportunity to fine-tune preparations for Fukuoka - the real focus for the year.

"So that meet [Sette Colli] will all just be about the processes, it's all just going to be about how we need to swim those races, making sure we implicate the right skills and processes throughout the race - that's technical, tactical, physical, mental, the whole nine yards," he adds.

"We need to make sure that everything is done perfectly there. That's not to say that we don't care about the times out there, but if we get all of those things right, the times will probably be pretty good themselves, and then we stand in a really good position to go into Worlds, knowing we've got everything lined up and ready to go." 

Given his Olympic crown and various other medal successes to date, it is easy to forget that Richards is still only 20 years old, and every season still brings plenty of valuable experience. 

That has been the case over the past year, with Matt competing at all three of last year's major internationals in a breathless two-month period, as well as being part of some eye-catching races back at April's British Championships.

And heading into the massive 14 months ahead, the freestyler is ready to put every bit of extra knowledge to use.

"There have been lots of lessons from last year, and a lot of the stuff I learned last year, I've been using in training," he reflects.

"What I would say is that some of the lessons from trials in April, like that 100m Freestyle final, I've learned a lot from those. Going into a race as somewhat of a clear favourite was a first for me, especially in a field that stacked. We saw then, a couple of days later in the 200m Free, I made sure not to make the same mistake again.

"The plan going into Worlds in the summer is to be able to stand on the blocks, next to anybody, being favourite or underdog or anywhere in between, and be able to get in and deliver what I need to do to take home a win.

"We'll have plenty of opportunities to do that at Worlds, individually and from a relay perspective, but I am very confident that the things I've learned over the last 18 months will really help me to deliver that."