Five years ago, Australian swimmer Mack Horton was touted as a future superstar of the sport after winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But the champion’s sad decline took another turn following a “heartbreaking” performance in the Tokyo Games on Tuesday evening.
Australia registered the second-fastest time of 7:05.00 in the men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay heats at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre, just 1.75 seconds slower than a talented British quartet who firm as favourites to clinch gold in the final.
Horton was comfortably the weakest of the four Australian’s in Tuesday’s heat, almost two seconds slower than teammate Zac Incerti.
Alexander Graham – 1:45.72
Mack Horton – 1:47.51
Elijah Winnington – 1:46.19
Zac Incerti – 1:45.58
Speaking to Channel 7 after the event, Horton conceded he might be axed from the team ahead of Wednesday’s final.
Tommy Neill and Kyle Chalmers are likely to be slotted in for the 4 x 200m freestyle relay final, meaning Horton is in danger of losing his spot.
“Probably not as good as I was hoping, you know, it was probably not good enough to get through to the final team which is heartbreaking, but we got the team through and that’s all that matters,” a humble Horton said.
“It was a privilege to be part of it.”
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Australia won the men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay at the 2019 world championships, with Horton clinching the gold with a superb anchor leg.
Sadly, he might not get an opportunity to repeat the feat in Tokyo.
“I really wanted to be on that relay, because what happened at the worlds was unreal,” Horton said, as reported by The Australian.
“That was one of the best international swims I’ve probably done, that anchor leg, so I want to be a part of that again.”
Earlier this year, Horton placed third in the 400m freestyle final at the Australian Olympic Trials, failing to qualify behind Elijah Winnington and Jack McLoughlin.
It was a shock result for an athlete who five years earlier won Olympic gold in the same event at the Rio Games.
Horton also made headlines in 2019 for protesting against the decision to let China’s Sun Yang compete at the world championships.
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Earlier in Tuesday evening’s swimming heats, Australia’s Kyle Chalmers came close to an Olympic record as he cruised into the men’s 100m freestyle semi-finals with a time of 47.77.
Having won gold as a teenager in Rio five years ago, Chalmers is hoping to become the first Australian male to defend the 100m freestyle title.
“It’s good. It’s a good confidence booster,” he said after the heat.
“Seven months ago I had shoulder surgery, so still kind of coming back and trying to get under the 48-second marks. So to do that in the heat is really nice.”
Chalmers’ time was third-fastest behind Italy’s Thomas Ceccon and America’s Caeleb Dressel, although only 0.06 seconds separated the three swimmers.
The men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay is scheduled to commence at 1.26pm AEST on Wednesday afternoon, while the men’s 100m freestyle semi-finals will start at 11.30am.