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Big Mack splashes back with emphatic 400 free gold

7 August 2016

SWIMMING: Australia’s Mack Horton dug deeper than he has ever dug in his life to snatch gold in the men’s 400m freestyle beating defending champion, China’s Sun Yang by a fingernail to give the swimmers a golden start to their Rio campaign.

Horton, who had the top time in the world for 2016 coming into the Games, has had a slightly interrupted preparation following a car accident in May but managed to swim “out of his skin” and  maintain his smooth, sleek stroke to steal a deserved win in a time of 3:41.55 with Yang second in 3:41.68.

Horton said his new found confidence on the world stage and the belief he had in himself was a driving factor in his win tonight.

“I think to win a gold medal at an international meet like this you have to be confident. Anyone in that pool can basically win it’s just who believes that they can do it the most, so I believed that I could do it the most,” he said.

“That last 25 metres and the last 15 metres felt like I had concrete blocks on my arms. Then I kind of flashed back to my statement this morning and thought I don’t really have a choice in letting him beat me, I have to beat him now. So that is what I did.”

The bronze medal went to Italy’s Gabriele Detti in 3:43.49 while fellow Australian David McKeon finished seventh overall in 3:45.28.

Horton said he swam his usual race plan in a highly competitive field including defending Olympic and reigning world champion Sun Yang as well as World championship silver medallist James Guy, and it paid off.

“I always have a goal time and race plan but ultimately Olympic finals are about just racing and touching the wall first,” Horton said.

“I swam it the way I usually swim a 400; control that first 200 and make a shift in the third 100. It was quite a big shift, I knew I needed to make it in the 300 metres to get that edge on Sun and Guy because I knew they both swim pretty quickly. I knew I was just ahead going into the 300m and had to lift and just hold them out for that last 100 metres.”

The 20-year-old has thrown the gauntlet down for the 1500m freestyle where he will face Yang once again on Day 8.

The legendary Murray Rose is the only other Australian to complete the 400 and 1500m freestyle Olympic gold double in Melbourne in 1956.

For Australia, this gold medal is a continuation of a longstanding history in this event, the 400m freestyle is our second most successful event in Olympic history - across both men and women - with now six gold, five silver and six bronze for a total of 17 medals in our Olympic history.

He is the first Australian since Ian Thorpe in 2004 to win the Olympic 400m freestyle crown, a statistic that Horton said was “insane”.

“That’s pretty insane, I’m still not quite as quick as Thorpey, but hopefully one day I can get there.”

The Melbourne-based boy now lowers his personal best time by 0.10 of a second and remains the seventh fastest swimmer in history in the event.

Clocking a B Qualifying time and narrowly missing the London Olympic team in 2012 may have been a blessing in disguise for young Horton who has timed his rise up the ranks to perfection at these Rio Games.

From Junior Pan Pacs in 2012, six gold medals at the junior world championships in 2013, to medals in the 800 and 1500m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacs in 2014, missing the final of this event at the senior world championships in 2015, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the Craig Jackson coached star and now it is finally his time to shine.

Horton attributes his success to the closeness and support of the wider team.

“Without putting too much pressure on it and saying it’s going to be an amazing golden era I think this swim team is in a very good place, and to have already doubled the medal tally from London is awesome. It’s the first night of racing and we still have 7 nights to go. I think the youth of the swim team brings a lot of potential. I think that is why we’re in such a good place.”

Waiting for him in the bustling media mixed zone area was his coach Craig Jackson, and as they embraced, the enormity of it all became obvious.

4x100m freestyle relay - Women

The Australian women's 4x100m freestyle relay team finished a great day for Australia by breaking their own world record and defended their Olympic title from 2012.

They trailed the USA slightly after the first two great legs from Emma McKeon and Brittany Elmslie before the Campbell sisters swam away from the rest of the world. Bronte taking the lead on the third leg and Cate extended it to win comfortably in 3:30.65, breaking their own mark set in 2014 by 0.23 seconds. Canada won the bronze. More here>>>

400m Individual Medley - Men

The elusiveness of Olympic medals in the men’s 400m individual medley continues with Australia’s two finalists failing to make it to the podium in the Rio Olympic Pool.

Thomas Fraser-Holmes finished sixth, a place ahead of Australian teammate Travis Mahoney in the final won by Japan’s Kosuke Hagino who held off American race favourite Chase Kalisz in a thrilling finish.

Fraser-Holmes was seen as a medal chance but his 4:11.90 performance was outside his time of 4:11.09 at the Australian titles that secured his spot in the event that has produced only one Australian medallist in the history of the race.

And that man is Rob Woodhouse, who won bronze at Edmonton in 1984, was in the arena as a commentator for ABC radio, willing Fraser-Holmes on.

Kosuke Hagino, who swam 4:06.05, was behind only countryman Seto Daiya after the breaststroke leg but pulled him in during the first 50 metres of the backstroke leg and was never headed.

Chase Kalisz took the silver in 4:06.75 with the bronze going to Daiya in 4:09.71.

Fraser-Holmes was third after the breaststroke leg, fourth and still a medal chance after backstroke at the halfway mark but the three medallists made it a race between them only in the butterfly and freestyle legs.

Mahoney was fifth after the breaststroke but faded to finish in 4:15.48.

100m butterfly - Women

First time Olympian Emma McKeon has had a stellar start to her Olympic Games campaign with a gold medal and new world record in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay and a finals berth in the women’s 100m butterfly after qualifying second fastest overall in the semi-finals.

Following a fourth place finish in the 100m fly at the world championships in 2015, McKeon could make her way onto the podium with a strong swim in this event for the Olympic final tomorrow night.

Twenty two-year-old McKeon was the second fastest qualifier from tonight’s semi-finals, sitting just behind Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who will move through ranked first with a time of 55.84.

McKeon’s semi-final time of 56.81 is a new personal best and puts her just outside the Australian and Commonwealth record of 56.23 set by Jessicah Schipper in 2009, a promising position to be in ahead of the final.

Although as it is the Olympic Games, anything can happen and the Michael Bohl coached swimmer will need to keep a close eye on Japan’s Rikako Ikee who was the third fastest qualifier in 57.05.

Following the butterfly semi-final, McKeon then backed up to help set a new world record in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay alongside her teammates Brittany Elmslie, Bronte Campbell and Cate Campbell, eclipsing Australia’s previous world record mark by 0.33 of a second – stopping the clock in 3:30.65.

With the 200m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay still to come McKeon has a busy schedule ahead of her.

100m breaststroke - Men

Meanwhile in the men’s 100m breaststroke semi-final Jake Packard has missed tomorrow night’s final by just 0.08 of a second after hitting the wall in 59.48 to finish ninth overall. 

This is Packard’s first Olympic Games and with a fourth place finish from the world championships in 2015, he is one to watch for the future.

400m Individual medley - Women

Hungarian Katinka Hosszú broke the World Record to claim the gold medal, with Australians Kerryn McMaster in 10th and Blair Evans 16th.

Kathleen Rayment and Neil Cadigan

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