“There’s the turn. All important. Great turn from Mack Horton, a chance to swim into history. He’s our leader, with just over half a lap to swim. Sun Yang, defending champion, alongside him. They’re going to battle it out here, stroke for stroke. The world champion and defending champion, moves up alongside Mack Horton. Horton finding something. He lifts. Improving. He gets to the wall….
And he wins it!!”
That is how Basil Zempilas called the closing stages of the 400m Freestlye Final, willing Mack Horton home to our first gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
It was an emphatic answer from the 20 year old Victorian to the developing rivalry between him and the controversial 2012 Olympic Champion Sun Yang. Although described as “fake news” by Chinese officials it has been alleged that the rivalry heated up after a failed attempt by Yang to taunt Horton in the training pool.
Horton’s own attempts to down play the incident probably threw more fuel onto the fire, “It got played up a bit but he splashed me to say I and I ignored him, I don’t have time or respect for drug cheats”, a not so thinly veiled reference by the Australian to the drug ban that Yang served in secret in 2014.
His comments weren’t taken well by Yang’s fans with Horton’s social media accounts being bombarded with about 700,000 abusive messages. In a funny side-note to this an Englishman, Mark Horton, has been caught in the cross fire receiving many messages intended for our boy Mack, even taking to Twitter pleading with Horton to apologise to the Chinese swimmer to end his unfortunate torment.
With the pair set to go head to head again in the 1500m, there is more of this rivalry to play out in Rio, which is probably not great news for poor Mark Horton.
In some ways Mack is an unlikely Olympic swimming champion as he only took up the sport as a 10 year old to combat a fear of water! But he took to the sport like a fish to water (groan, I know, shut up) breaking an Australian under age record only 3 years later.
A chance meeting with Grant Hackett as an 11 year really set Horton on his path to Olympic glory. From this point in time for motivation he would sleep with the complete list of world record holders in the 1500m freestyle above his bed.
It has been a successful tool, although narrowly missing out on the London Olympic teams as a 16 year old, Horton hasn’t been building but smashing his way to this moment. In the 2013 World Junior Championship in 2013 he swam away with 5 gold medals and 5 meet records. A Silver in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Bronze in the 2015 World Championships rounding out his impressive apprenticeship.
With his nose for swimming history Mack would know he joins champions Ian Thorpe, Murray Rose and Brad Cooper as Australian 400m Freestyle Gold Medallists. Later in the week he will also get his chance to join Grant Hackett, the man who through meeting set him on this path, as winner of 1500m Gold.
For now though, let’s celebrate the man with the Rock Star Name who had a swim to match. 2016 Men’s 400m Freestyle Olympic Champion – Mack Horton!!!