The 18-year-old, who honed his skills at The Royal Wolverhampton School Swimming Club, was picked to join Tom Dean, Duncan Scott and James Guy for the final of the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo.
Richards went third in the race and helped push Team GB into a one-second lead before Scott raced home for the gold. A time of six minutes 58.58 seconds set a new European benchmark and was just three hundredths of a second behind the world record still held by a Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte inspired United States 12 years ago.
Richards – preferred in the final to Calum Jarvis, who helped Britain reach yesterday’s showpiece and will still receive a gold medal – revelled in his achievement. “It’s an honour to have this hanging round my neck,” said the teenager. “Forever now, this will be something that I can say I was part of and it will be something I can tell my kids and hopefully my grandkids about one day.
“But for me I’ve got some big goals, I’ve got a lot of things that I want to achieve in my swimming career and as far as I’m concerned this is just the very beginning.”
Richards was a boarding student at The Royal and came through their swimming programme with coach and former Olympian Marc Spackman, who added: “Everyone at the Royal School in Wolverhampton are proud of Matthew and his gold medal winning performance.
“At 18 years of age it’s an incredible feat and to perform the way he did showed his incredible talent and ability.”