Coming off the bend, Richards was not among the front-runners.
But the Trinidad and Tobago sprinter turned on the afterburners on the straight, digging deep into his reserves to storm into medal contention.
“I had a bad start,” Richards told the Express. “I stumbled a little bit, but I tried not to let it affect me. I still tried to stay relaxed. Going into the straight, I glanced up and saw I was fourth or fifth. It was time to go.”
And go, he did!
With a top-three finish secured, Richards leaned for the line.
Bronze was the outcome, the 23-year-old World Champs debutant missing out on silver by the narrowest of margins.
Both Richards and South African silver medallist Wayde van Niekerk were awarded the same time, 20.11 seconds.
Just one-thousandth of a second separated the pair.
Gold medallist Ramil Guliyev of Turkey was just ahead, claiming the title in 20.09.
“I didn't even realise it was that close,” said Richards, “I'm not mad. I still prevailed with a medal.”
The Point Fortin sprinter's mother, Yvette Wilson, was very much on his mind as he made a lap of honour with the Red, White and Black draped across his shoulders.
“This means a lot to me. I always wanted to bring a medal back home for my mom. I do everything for her, so I am so happy I can take her the bronze.”
Twenty years and two days after Ato Boldon's historic 200m triumph in Athens, Greece, Richards became only the second T&T athlete to earn a World Champs half-lap medal.
Boldon's gold back in 1997 was the first IAAF World Championship triumph for T&T.
Jehue Gordon made it two with his 400m hurdles success at the 2013 edition in Moscow, Russia. Yesterday, Richards made a bold bid for number three, falling short by just two-hundredths of a second.
The bronze was T&T's 14th medal in the 34-year history of the IAAF World Championships.
Breaking the drought
There is striking parallel to the Richards and Boldon stories.
Boldon was also 23 when he won in Athens.
That golden run came one year after he broke T&T's 20-year Olympic medal drought, bagging 100m bronze and then repeating the feat in the 200m at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Richards also broke a two-decade T&T drought, joining Boldon in the elite “IAAF World Championship 200 Medallist” club.
The pattern suggests something huge could be in store for Richards in 2018.
“I wish next year, please, God, had a World Championship,” said a smiling Richards. “By right, I should get a gold medal. I'm looking forward to the upcoming season and trying to do bigger and better things.”
Coming into the 2017 season, Richards had a 20.58 seconds personal best in the 200m.
Now, he is a sub-20 sprinter and, more importantly, a World Championship bronze medallist.
The University of Alabama student said his meteoric rise was the direct result of his off-season training.
“There were days I was really tired and wanted to throw up, but I went past that. I worked really hard. Going to the Olympic Games and not being able to run, just going there to watch, made me really hungry.
“I wanted to represent Trinidad and Tobago at a major championship,” he continued. “And to actually do that today and get a medal, I can't describe how I feel. There's so much emotion to actually get a medal. It's just a great experience, and something I've been dreaming about for my whole life.”
All things being equal, there's a lot more to come from T&T's newest track star.
Make way for Jereem “The Dream” Richards.