Otopeni 2023: Matt Richards eagerly anticipates reunion with David Popovici in Romania

Credit to: Morgan Harlow/British Swimming

Matt Richards is relishing the prospect of locking horns once more with David Popovici at next month’s European Short Course Championships in Otopeni, Romania.

The 20-year-old won his maiden World title in Fukuoka in July when he led home Olympic champion Tom Dean in the 200m freestyle for a historic British one-two.

The pair then joined forces with James Guy and Duncan Scott, the Tokyo silver medallist in the individual event behind Dean, as they added 4x200m freestyle relay gold to their Olympic crown.

It came a year after Popovici claimed the 100-200 free double at the World Championships in Budapest before replicating that feat weeks later at the Europeans in Rome.

The Romanian scorched to a world record of 46.86 over two lengths at the Foro Italico, and his winning time of 1:42.97 in the 200 free elevated him to third-fastest in history behind only Paul Biedermann and Michael Phelps.

Credit to: Morgan Harlow/British Swimming

While he didn’t reach those heights at the 2023 World Championships – finishing fourth in the 200 free and sixth over 100 – Richards tipped his hat to Popovici, who’ll be competing in front of a home crowd at the Otopeni Swimming Complex.

Richards told European Aquatics: “Being able to be at the meet (the European Championships) and poolside when David did the 1:42, and the world record on the 100 free, was incredible to watch. To see someone so young doing that was phenomenal.

“I’ve had the pleasure of racing him now several times and I’ve said a few times we are going to be racing each other for many, many years to come I think.

“We’re going to have some great doozies and head-to-heads yet to come.”

David Popovici
Credit to: Simone Castrovillari

Richards will make his European Short Course debut in Otopeni from 5-10 December as part of a 35-strong British team.

The Welshman – who holds the British short course 100 free record of 45.85secs – is set to contest the 50, 100 and 200 free, plus relays.

There he’ll meet British teammates Dean, Scott, Guy – with whom he trains under Ryan Livingstone at Millfield – and Ben Proud, who claimed an unprecedented treble of World, Commonwealth and European 50 free titles in 2022.

As well as Popovici, awaiting Richards are the likes of French duo Maxime Grousset – with World sprint freestyle medals in the long and short-course pools – and four-time Olympic medallist Florent Manaudou, 11 years after he won five golds at the 2012 European Short Course Championships in Chartres, France.

Danas Rapsys of Lithuania and the Netherlands’ Thom de Boer – both five-time World short-course medallists – will also be in the mix with others yet to be confirmed.

Credit to: KMSP/Stéphane Kempinaire

For Richards, the six-day meet will offer another opportunity to pit himself against some of the best on the world stage before attention turns to Paris 2024.

He said: “I’ve always really enjoyed short course. Last season I raced at some smaller short course meets – English, Scottish and things – but I didn’t do World short-course last year, so I didn’t really get a chance to race it on the big stage with any of the big competitors.

“So I am quite excited to see what that will be like this year for me, racing at short course against the likes of David, Maxime, all those guys, and having a proper doozy, and the British lads too.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting. Last year I had a couple of British records on the 100 free, a couple of 45s.

“I think I was a 41 low on the 200 free, so yeah, we’ll just be looking to build from that this year and keep improving.”

Keep across European Aquatics’ social media platforms and website for key updates leading into Otopeni 2023 – 5-10 December.