Jereem "The Dream" Richards is not putting any pressure on himself going into the opening round of the men's 400 metres at the World Athletics Championships here in Budapest, Hungary, today.
"This year I've understood the 400 a little bit more," Richards told the Sunday Express following a training session at the National Athletics Centre warm-up track. "I've felt more confident and more comfortable in the event, so for me I would just go out there and have fun and enjoy it.
"The way I think about it," the 29-year-old track star continued, "it's my secondary event, so there's no pressure. I'm just going to do as best as I can and enjoy the moment. I'm still just learning and enjoying the process."
Richards, the 2022 Commonwealth Games 200m champion, has been drawn in lane two in the third of six 400 heats. The 4.41a.m (TT time) race will also feature American Vernon Norwood, in lane four, Norway's Havard Ingvaldsen, in eight, and Portugal's Joao Coelho, in nine. The top three in each heat progress automatically to the semis.
Heat two includes South Africa's world record holder Wayde Van Niekerk. Richards and Van Niekerk are training partners at the Lance Brauman camp in Florida, USA.
"Training with Wayde for the past two/three years has taught me a lot in the event," said Richards. "I've learned a lot from him, and I'm going to use that momentum and do my best. He's a very helpful person. We help each other in and outside of practice. He's a close friend also. I'm looking forward to taking that momentum, transferring it to the track and running a fast time in the 400.
"Although Wayde is a rival," Richards continued, "I want him to do well. Obviously, you don't want him to beat you, but at the same time if he does better than me, there's no malice, no hard feelings. We train together, we grind together, we help each other. I actually see the work he puts in and he sees the work I put in so win, lose, draw, I would be happy for him, I would be happy for myself."
Richards has run six 400s this year - three indoor and three outdoor. His most recent 400 was on July 6 at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, in El Salvador, where he struck gold in a personal best 44.54 seconds.
Additionally, Richards has had five appearances in his pet event, the 200m, and one 150m race for a total of 12 individual outings in 2023. By mid-August last year, he already had 19 races under his belt. The Point Fortin sprinter said he is happy to go into his World Athletics Championship campaign with just six 400s in his legs.
"In a sense I would say it's an edge. Some might consider it not because the 400 is a race where you need to settle into a rhythm, but I feel I've been settling into a rhythm very easily with not racing too much so I look at it as an advantage.
"I'm not one to focus on times too much," the 2022 world indoor 400m champion continued, "but I'm feeling good in practice. I have the ability and I feel good enough to execute better than I did when I ran a personal best so I look forward to continue dropping my times in the 400."
Richards has a 200m personal best of 19.80 seconds. His fastest time in 2023 is 20.08.
"I'm having a better year in the 400. I didn't get as close to the time I wanted in the 200. So, weighing all my odds and talking to my coach, medical staff, everything, it made more sense to run the 400, so I'm going out there and enjoying it in Budapest.
"I'm a firm believer in God. And God's timing is best. I've never rushed his timing before, so I'm going to trust in the process and if a faster time is to come in the 200, it is, and if not, it's still okay. At the end of the day, I always go out there and do the best I could possibly do on that day."
Richards hinted that a long-term switch in focus to the 400 could be on the cards.
"It might be a decision moving forward. I feel like it's a conversation for years now; that my ability in the 400 could be somewhat world class."
At 6.24 this morning (TT time), Leah Bertrand makes her World Athletics Championship debut in heat three of the women's 100m. The 21-year-old TTO sprinter will square off against seven women, including American Tamari Davis, Poland's Ewa Swoboda and Murielle Ahoure-Demps of Ivory Coast. A top-three finish would earn Bertrand a lane in the semis.
At 6.31, TTO's Michelle-Lee Ahye will line up in heat four against Jamaican Shericka Jackson, Germany's Gina Luckenkemper and Nigerian Rosemary Chukwuma.