Mack Horton’s recent retirement from swimming amounts to the last stroke of a truly golden career.
As a Victorian Institute of Sport athlete for nine years, during which he won Olympic gold in the 400m at Rio in 2016, four Commonwealth Games gold medals, a world championship silver in controversial circumstances in 2019 and bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Horton was not only dazzlingly successful but a source of inspiration to Victorian swimming.
Of course, he will not only be remembered as a superb athlete. He is widely admired for the stand he took on behalf of the cause of clean sport, at the time a divisive and geopolitically tense matter far more complicated than it should have been.
In a modestly-worded statement issued by Swimming Australia on the weekend, Horton said:
“I am so grateful for my time in swimming and in regard to legacy, I hope my teammates and the sport think that I was able to help them and the sport in some way.”
Dr Harry Brennan, General Manager of High Performance Swimming at the VIS, reflects on Horton’s career and his influence in swimming and, more broadly, sport.
“Mack came to the VIS on scholarship in 2012/13, in our swimming program. Earlier that year he won gold in the junior Pan Pacific competition, in the 1500m. That was the result that drew attention and brought him to the Victorian Institute of Sport on scholarship.
“The following year, in 2013, he won five gold and one silver at the world championships in Dubai. In 2014 he won silver at the Commonwealth Games and set a junior world record. So, it was obvious he had talent and could go a long way.
“He was swimming under coach Craig Jackson, out of MSAC, with the Melbourne Vic Centre club. He would come to the VIS gym for his strength and conditioning as well as utilise biomechanics for technique analysis, and physiology input to his program. He leveraged the specialist support to help improve his performances, under the excellent tutelage of Craig.
“He had talent and excellent coaching but he wanted more. He was really professional and determined. Diligent. In our swimming program, he never missed a session and would always be curious about why and how he was doing a particular thing.
“He was definitely a standout and a role model. Talented, yes, but his work ethic was prodigious and always modest. As a character, he was pretty quiet and very humble.
“Mack’s gold medal in 2016 was significant. He was the second swimmer behind Liesel Jones from a VIS perspective to win a gold medal. Mack winning gold meant something significant to not only the VIS but the state of Victoria.
“The legacy that he has left behind for Victorian swimming, it shows what is possible for young talented swimmers coming through the ranks. Mack spent 9 years in Victoria and got to the top of his sport, through hard work and dedication.
“Mack Horton is very much a role model, for not only the VIS, but for Victoria as a whole, and we should celebrate and acknowledge everything he achieved both in and outside of the pool.”
Horton was also honoured in 2016 as the winner of the Victorian Institute of Sport Award of Excellence. His success is admired each day as staff and athletes walk past his winner's portrait hung inside VIS HQ.