BY STEFANIE BLANCH AND CHRISTINA RAMSAY
Quietly confident, ambitious, and short-sighted. A few words that sum up Australia’s latest swimming superstar joining the 2016 Australian Rio Olympic team, Mackenzie “Mack” Horton. While the 19-year old Melbourne boy might need prescription goggles in the pool, Mack has his sights set high on one day setting a world record.
The swimming star qualified first in the April Olympic trials for the 400m Freestyle, ahead of swimming legend Grant Hackett, making him the fourth fastest man in history in a textile swimsuit.
Horton returned to qualify for1500m freestyle the following week, taking out first place and finishing over thirty seconds ahead of the next swimmer in his preferred event. “About 400m in Craig waved me and said I was going too slow so I picked it up,” commented Horton after the race,“Obviously I picked it up a bit too much. It felt comfortable so it was good.”
Horton’s current personal best for this event stands at 14:44.09, just less than 10 seconds under Hackett’s national record in this event. Horton’s coach, Craig Jackson, is optimistic that his win in the 400m will give him the confidence he needs to succeed in the Olympic games at Rio this year.
Not only is Horton living out his dream to compete at the Olympics, but he will also arrive as a real medal contender. But this isn’t merely a story of Australia’s hopeful comeback at Rio this year; it is a private look into the life of one of our leading players, Mack Horton.
At the young age of 10, Melbourne-based Mack Horton was scouted for the swimming club at the Melbourne Aquatics center where he was welcomed to the world of competitive swimming. Although you wouldn’t believe it now, Horton admits to having a fear of swimming as a child.
He says: “My family used to go to the swimming pool around the corner and I would get in but I would never put my head under. One day just before we were leaving I finally put my head under and I didn’t wan to leave. I was just kind of hooked from there.”
Almost a decade later, Mack made his Senior International Debut, entering the world titles as the number one ranked swimmer. It was here, however, that the sporting world began to doubt his ability to bring the nation a gold at Rio. Expecting to finish with a medal in each of his events, Horton left only with a bronze in the 800m freestyle, failing to qualify for the 400m or 1500m finals.
Many media outlets put the loss down to “stage fright”, with The Australian describing it as a “miserable world debut”. It was a harsh reminder of how quickly fans can turn against you, and Horton merely believed they must have gotten the balance wrong in the training leading up to the meet. But the young athlete did his best to remain positive and level- headed.
“I just tried to remember that I can actually swim fast and tried to forget about how crap I was feeling,” he says.
Certainly, Mack can swim fast- in reality, he suffered from a two-day bout of gastroenteritis and still managed to pick up a medal. Horton lost 5kg in the days leading up to the competition thanks to a microscopic parasite he ingested somewhere between Australia and Kazan. Despite the unfortunate situation, Horton lists the world championships as one of top three achievements.
“My achievement here was being able to forget about everything, about how I was feeling and push on through.”
The second was at the Commonwealth games in 2014 when he placed silver in the 1500m freestyles and gold as a heat swimmer in the 4×200.
Expanding on his swimming accolades, Horton speaks fondly of another more humble accomplishment. Mack says his other proudest achievement was captaining the school swimming team at Caulfield Grammar and leading his team to victory in year 12. The team had suffered a “seven-year drought” until his year, and Horton, understandably, likes to think he “got them over the line.”
Now an ambassador for Speedo at the young age of 19, Horton is in a position coveted by Olympic swimmers globally. His current training regime consists of ten swim sessions per weak, each between two and two and a half hours as well as two ninety-minute gym sessions, one hour of boxing, two stretch sessions as well as physio and massage.
This kind of intense training regime would obviously put a strain on relationships, but Horton coolly explains: “Close [friendships] are always maintained, like my family and my girlfriend, they are just always going to be there.”
School friends on the other hand: “They drop away,” Horton says.
“They don’t really understand or see what I do. I try and make an effort but really, my focus at the moment is swimming, so that’s what comes first.”
However physically and mentally challenging the sport may be, Horton isn’t fazed: “When you find something you love and you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t become work.”
Witnessing this kind of dedication to a sport, one has to ask wonder where Horton gets his inspiration.
“I like to stand behind the blocks knowing I am ready,” he said. “I stand there and think, I’ve trained harder than all of you, and now I am going to beat you.”
Following the Adelaide trials, where Horton beat his sporting idol, Grant Hackett, the young swimmer says he “may as well have a decent crack” at the 400m event. “It would be nice to be the fastest Australian in the 400m and 1500m.”
Nevertheless, Horton isn’t getting too carried away just yet: “Australia has a ridiculously good history in the 1500m but I am just trying to do my own thing and be the best I can be.”
When talking of the people in particular who inspire him, Horton spoke warmly of Lydia Lassila and Roger Federer, both of their dedication and commitment to their respective sports, and also as they seem to “genuinely care about people around them.”
The Melbourne boy appears determined to take on his position as a role model, well aware of the additional challenges his first Olympic Games might present. He says that he is excited about life in the Olympic Village, but also admits to being most worried about this aspect of the games.
“The village is going to be crazy and potentially a distraction,” he says. “I’ll have to focus on what I need to do and not on anyone else. Kind of selfish but it has to be done.”
When talking of how he might celebrate Rio, Horton confesses something about his plans for the year: “I have already booked a Europe holiday for afterward, so that sounds bad doesn’t it? But, I guess I just have to make the team now.”
It’s easy to forget that this superman look-alike, swimming superstar is only 19 years old. But with his humble demeanor and boyish charm, Australia’s golden boy will likely be a global favourite in his Olympic debut.
Upon completion of our interview, Horton asks timidly: “Am I allowed to ask you some questions now?”