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   Jul 05

Olympic 1500m hopeful Mack Horton ready to emerge from the shadows

Not that long ago it would have been inconceivable most Australian sports fans wouldn’t know the name of a rising 1500m swimmer, especially one ranked No.2 in the world, not to mention a year out from an Olympic Games.
Nanjing Night Net

Anyway, this is Mack Horton. He might win an Olympic gold medal in Rio. Everybody wave.

Such has been swimming’s rapid demotion from popular sporting culture that athletes like Horton, from Melbourne, need a degree of introduction unless the opening ceremony falls within the next pay cycle.

Yet the 19-year-old could well be Australia’s next distance champion. Grant Hackett’s return to the ranks of the Dolphins has largely overshadowed Horton’s steady rise, but it’s the latter far more likely to be gracing a podium in Brazil.

With James Magnussen out after shoulder surgery, it will fall to sprint star Cate Campbell to headline the individual Australian assault at the FINA World Championships in the Russian city of Kazan in August.

The women’s 4 x 100m relay – gold medalists from London – look virtually invincible yet outside of that it’s a meet made for a new face to press their Olympic prospects.

Horton finds himself ranked number one in the 400m but like Hackett and Kieren Perkins before him, cherishes the 1500m, an event which Australia has an enduring and curious love affair with and one that could yet be rekindled in a little over 12 months’ time.

And while the recent template for staying stars has been one of steely determination and focus – Perkins was swimming in his sleep – Horton could barely be more laidback.

It’s helped that he’s largely flown under the radar, but even so, he says he’s at his best when he forgets swimming the moment he steps out of the water.

“Mentally, I don’t really think about it too much, until you [journalists] ask about it. I deal with things as they come … I’ll start getting serious when I’m over there in Russia getting ready,” Horton said.

“For me, it needs to be done that way so it doesn’t consume your life. If you’re constantly thinking and stressing about it, it doesn’t work. I tend to manage it fairly well myself and they [coaches] can see I’m doing OK.”

Still, Horton admits he likes the sound of ‘Mack Horton, world champion’, even it would sharply focus the spotlight ahead of Rio, adding the kind of pressure he’s so far been able to avoid in his swimming career.

“It goes all right [the idea of a world title]. I try not to think about it too much,” he said.

“It would definitely add a lot of pressure going into Rio next year. But that’s a good stepping stone and a marker for what could be to come in the following year. It could be all right.”

The man Horton must beat in the Russia has become an unlikley comrade. Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri spent time in Melbourne at the start of the year training alongside Horton and his coach Craig Jackson.

Now Horton must find a way to erase the five-second gap between their personal bests, with Horton’s 14:44.09s set at this year’s Australian Championships in arrears of the 14:39.93s Paltrinieri set at last year’s European titles.

“He actually came to train with me last year [November] for about a month. He’s coming to train again at the end of this year as well. We’re actually pretty good mates,” Horton said.

“He just emailed my coach Craig and said he wanted to come and train with me. He came over with his coach and his physio. I showed him around Melbourne and we became good friends. He’s a great guy.”

Horton said the Dolphins had pulled together ahead of Kazan after the withdrawal of Magnussen and Kylie Palmer, who has taken a voluntary suspension as she fights drug allegations.

“We had a meeting about what happened to the team and who’s missing out and all of that type of thing. We’re all going OK. Everyone is focusing on what they need to do to swim the best they can,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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