Hail Mack Horton As 2016 Olympic Champ Retires, His Gold Steeped In What The True Athlete Voice Of Courage Is All About

2024-01-21 4 comments Reading Time: 12 minutes
Mack ORTON of Australia jubilates after winning in the men's 400m Freestyle Final, while Yang SUN of China (bottom) finishes 2nd
Mack Horton of Australia celebrates victory in the 400m freestyle at the Rio 2016 Olympics ahead of the vanquished 2012 champion Sun Yang* - by Patrick B. Kraemer

Mack Horton, the Australian 400m freestyle Olympic champion, has retired from competitive swimming.

Among his many achievements, Horton will go down as the Antidopean answer to Braveheart who defeated Sun Yang* at Rio 2016 two years after the Chinese controversy had tested positive for a banned substance and two years before a row with anti-doping testers over the removal of a sample from the chain of custody would lead to a ban and second career penalty.

Below our SOS Archive, you can find Swimming Australia’s fine tribute to Mack Horton. Here is a reminder of how Horton immortalised his status and standing in Olympic and swimming history:

Rio 2016 – From the SwimVortex Archive

First Gold Of Games: Mack The Knife Horton Says No Respect For ‘Cheat’ Sun Yang

And the gold to the first athlete of the Games in competition to speak up for clean sport and against those who fall foul of anti-doping rules goes to Australia’s Mack Horton.

The backdrop to these 31st Olympic Games of Blame is one that cannot be ignored. For whatever reason, the IOC, FINA and the combined forces of CAS and all others involkved did nit find a way of keeping the poison out of the pool, with all Russians at first barred now back in.

And so, no surprised to find some extra needle in the 400m freestyle this night in Rio: asked about getting water splashed at him in the warm-up by Sun Yang*, the defending champion from China who is locked out of all funded training centres in Australia, Horton emerged from a smooth 3:43 heat to say of the incident:

Mack Horton
Mack Horton by Delly Carr, courtesy of Swimming Australia

“It kind of got played up in the media a little bit. He just splashed me to say ‘hi’ and I ignored him because I don’t have time or respect for drug cheats. He wasn’t too happy about that so he kept splashing me and I just got in and did my thing.”

Sun Yang tested positive for a heart booster in 2014 after the substance had been added to the banned list at the start of that year. He was handed a retrospective three-month suspension but that was never served, Sun having raced to three golds at the Asian Games between his May positive and the November revelation of his fall from grace.

Mack Horton by Steve Christo for Swimming Australia Ltd
 Mack Horton by Steve Christo for Swimming Australia Ltd

After the warm-up incident earlier this week, China’s Olympic swim team manager Xu Qi rubbished claims that Sun had splashed Horton in training in an effort to distract him.

“It is fake news,” said Xu on the crienglish.com website.

“Sun Yang and the Australian swimmers are very good friends.” Apparently not.

He asked for the media to “write about Sun Yang objectively and not to make up stories about him.”

No making it up now: Horton, the 20-year-old Victorian, coached by Craig Jackson in Melbourne, at the helm of the world rankings over 400m ahead of Rio battle, was clear: the incident happened – and he ignored it, refusing to be distracted by a ‘drug cheat’.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Day 1 Finals – Men’s 400m freestyle

Mack Horton, of Australia, had already celebrated a golden moment after lunchtime heats, having taken a stand for clean sport. In the final, he drove the knife deeper with a 3:41.55 victory over Sun Yang*, the tainted Chinese defending champion, whose 3:41.68 left him shy but the first man on the podium at these Games towing an asterisk.

James Guy set the pace at 53.70, 1:50.23 and, leading still with 100m to go, 2:47.79. It was then going to be tough for the 200m world champion as three 1500m aces chased him down.

Sun looked dangerous throughout, in lane 6 and hanging on to the coat-tails of Horton in 5 from start but unable to produce the hallmark killer finishes of the past and t the finish forced to stay in the role of understudy to the Australian coached by Craig Jackson in Melbourne.

In a race and at a pace that favoured the men of 30-lap stamina over the last 100m, Gabrielle Detti swept through from 6th at the last turn, past Americans Conor Dywer and Connor Jaeger and Guy, to take bronze for Italy in 3:43.49. Dywer led the 3:44s at 0.01sec past the post, Jaeger in 3:44.16 and the courageous Guy on 3:44.68.

The ebb and flow:

  • 54.06 (4) 1:51.19 (3) 2:48.01 (2) 3:41.55 Horton
  • 54.52 (7) 1:51.67 (7) 2:48.06 (3) 3:41.68 Sun
  • 54.67 (8) 1:51.84 (8) 2:48.82 (6) 3:43.49 Detti

The race left Sun and Horton at No 2 and No 4 on the all-time textile world rankings, Horton a touch up on his previous best of 3:41.65 from Australian trials. Death entered the top 10 at No8, leaving Guy’s 3:43.75 high from world titles last year at No10.

Horton beamed on the podium as Australian fans cheered for their sixth champion since it all began more than a century ago. He shook hands but had barely a smile for Sun, who, he said, earlier in the day, he had neither time nor respect for after the Chinese swimmer had tested positive for doping in 2014.

At 3:41 today, Sun showed only rude health: no sign of the heart condition that required him to take Triamterene for what the Chinese described as several years and the condition that kept him from turning up to his blocks for the 1500m freestyle world-title final last year. It must be assumed an alternative medicine was found that does not contravene the WADA Code, unless Sun is simply better these days.

Meanwhile, in victory, the Australian who claimed five world junior golds back in 2013 when he narrowly missed the cut for the world titles, shook off any lasting impression that he suffered from nerves on the big senior occasion. Last year in Kazan at world titles, he entered the fray as a favourite for top honours in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle but failed to make the 400m final, took bronze in the 800m and missed the podium in the 1500m.

It was later revealed that he had been suffering from a viral infection that had knocks his ability to recover.

There was no sign of that this evening. After emerging the victor in a showdown with the killer finish from China, Horton said with a nod to the earlier controversy:

Mack Horton – by Deli Carr, courtesy of Swimming Australia

“The last 50 I was thinking about what I said and what would happen if he gets me here. I didn’t have a choice but to beat him…The Australian swim team is in the best shape it’s been in for years. It doesn’t get any better than gold on the first night.”

“In another big final, it’s about touching the wall first and that’s what I did,” Horton said. “I had my eye on everyone else in the field. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I have a couple more races this week so I need to relax a little bit and focus on those, but it’s very exciting.”

Generation Game: Grant Hackett, left, and Mack Horton [Swimming Australia]
 Generation Game: Grant Hackett, left, and Mack Horton [Swimming Australia]

Talking of having his eye on everyone else, Horton wears prescription goggles to make sure he can do that. Horton’s eyesight is said to be so bad that without his glasses or goggles he could “barely see my hand in front of my face”, he once said.

Horton began swimming at 10, the aim to get him over his fear of water – a snap with Adam Peaty. It took just three years before Horton was racing into the Aussie age-record books.

At 11 he met Grant Hackett, according to Horton’s father, and was hooked to swimming. Horton, who got to meet Hackett again as a fellow competitor in the past two seasons, used to sleep with a sheet of paper hanging over his bed that carried a list of junior record holders in the 1500m freestyle. And that’s saying something Down Under.When not swimming, Horton studies commerce online at the Australian Catholic University. 

Horton once said this of his glance out into the world for a time when he no longer wants to bash up and down the pool: “I want to find the equivalent of the 1500m in the business world.

Horton & How The Sun Set On Yang In 2019/2020 …

It was January 2019 when I unearthed a secret FINA report detailing an inquiry into Sun Yang, his entourage and their handling of an out-of-competition anti-doping control in September 2018.

The Sunday Times article of the incident alerted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to an inquiry which catalogued a series of misdemeanours and heavy criticism, including all the arguments which Sun had put his entire career on the line by behaving as he did. And yet, that same damning report led FINA to the conclusion that the report should remain known only to the parties involved and Sun would face no penalty nor further action beyond a slap-on-the-wrist warning.

In summary, here’s what came to pass: After Sun had arrived home beyond the timer he said he would be there, a long dispute unfolded between the swimmer, his entourage and the testing team. It lasted long into the night and early hours of the morning. And it ended, at least on the day, after a blood sample that Sun had handed over and signed into the chain of custody ended up being taken back before the swimmer’s mother called on a security guard to fetch a hammer and Sun shone his smart-phone torch on the moment when the outer casing of the sample tube was smashed on the pavement outside the control room in an effort to destroy it.

WADA was deeply concerned that it had received no report in the incident and after considered my news report and the actual FINA report, decided to challenge FINA’s decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Two hearings followed, in 2019 and 2020 (result 2021). Neither came in time to prevent Sun Yang from competing at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, where Sun pipped Horton for gold in the 400m free and also claimed the 200m free World title.

A form of peaceful protest widely supported by athletes: Mack Horton, left, keeps his distance to register his objection to the presence of Sun Yang at the World Swimming Championships in 2019 at a time when he was facing an anti-doping hearing that would end in the Chinese swimmer landing a second WADA penalty and an eight-year ban. Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Under the event mantra “Dive into Peace”, Horton staged a peaceful podium protest by refusing to pose with Sun for a group shot of the medallists. The same pattern unfolded in the 200m free, when Britain’s Duncan Scott stepped back and away from the podium pose only to have Sun scream in his face in full view of TV cameras broadcasting to global feeds. All three men were given warnings by FINA on grounds of ‘disrepute’ rules, even though FINA itself had contributed far more to bringing the sport into disrepute by attempting to keep secret events that clearly should have been reported to WADA in the first place without the need of the media alert on the matter from me and the Sunday Times.

The CAS Hearings

The first CAS hearing in 2019 included witness from three members of Sun’s entourage, including an already two-times penalised doctor, his boss and regional Chinese anti-doping official and a senior Chinese Swimming Association governor. All three, in a variety of ways, admitted to threatening the young Chinese women who led the testing team with loss of position and job, among other kinds of dubious and unacceptable treatment of her.

That first hearing ended in a suspension of eight years for Sun Yang.

The chairman of the first hearing was then challenged on grounds of ‘bias’ because, long before the 2019 hearing, he had tweeted his opposition to animal cruelty in China by posting a video excruciating and brutal treatment of dogs while using the racist word “yellow” to describe the Chinese perpetrators of the acts of cruelty.

Sun’s lawyers challenged his fitness to rule in the case and a new hearing was called. It came to the same conclusion a year later but on technical grounds accepted by the new judging panel, the penalty was reduced to four years and three months.

It now appears that the penalty, which runs out in May this year, will make Rio 2016 and his defeat by Horton the last Olympics for Sun Yang if China sticks to a stated three-event selection process for the Paris 2024 Games. The last of the three selection events is in April, before Sun would be eligible to compete.

If we have seen the last of Sun Yang as an elite swimmer, that outcome also has a deeply unsatisfactory result attached to it beyond the lost medals and prizes and honours of swimmers Sun defeated at competitions that took place after he had been proven to have fallen foul of anti-doping rules: those three men from his entourage, who encouraged him to remove a sample from the chain of custody, have never been penalised for their role in breaking anti-doping rules.

In 2020, after the first ruling, Horton revealed the chilling details of threats made against him and his family in the wake of his objections to a man being allowed top race under a cloud:

Mack Horton & Family On Life Under Siege Due To Calling Out Sun Yang’s Doping

Now, with both men no longer in the frame for Paris, the whole sorry saga is a matter of record and troubled, toxic water under the bridge, the consequences of which will continue to play out in the lives off those denied their rightful rewards as a result of the leniency shown to those who orchestrate cheating and those who deliver the result of that deceit.

Mach Horton was, of course, right all along. He and others had faced far more challenge than just a well-trained talent when racing Sun.

A Few Related Links:

Third & Last ‘Guilty’ Ruling Against Sun Yang Returned As New CAS Panel Reduces Ban To Four Years, Three Months

What We Won’t Miss: Sun Yang & An Entourage That Still Has Questions To Answer Over 2014 Doping Positive

Sun Yang Loses Appeal Against June 2021 Suspension Verdict & Must Pay Costs

Swimming Australia’s Tribute to Horton – In Full

Swimming Australia today recognised and thanked Mack Horton for his incredible years of valuable service to the Australian Dolphins following the announcement of his retirement from international competition.
The 27-year-old retires as an Olympic gold medallist in the 400m freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympics, a bronze medallist in the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo, an athlete leader – and a proud advocate of clean sport.
Mackenzie “Mack” Horton’s tireless work has left an indelible mark on world swimming – a World, Commonwealth and Olympic champion he is renowned for his integrity, values, and courage to stand up for what he believes in.
Horton amassed six gold medals across Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games in a 17-year career, and Swimming Australia acknowledges the positive impact he had on national teams, individuals, and members of the greater the swimming community.   
Born and raised in Melbourne, Horton – who remains the only male swimmer from the state of Victoria to win an individual Olympic gold medal in Games history – began competitive swimming at the age of 10 after successfully overcoming his fear of the water.
After breaking his first Australian Age Record at the age of 13, Horton rose through the junior ranks and announced himself as a potential star of the future with five gold medals and five championship records at the 2013 World Junior Championships in Dubai.
He progressed to senior ranks after an eye-catching 2014 Australian Championships where he won the 1500m freestyle, finished second in the 400m freestyle and set three new junior world records.
Recently married to high school sweetheart Ella, Horton will now concentrate on a new career with advertising company Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne.
“I dearly wanted to swim in Paris but the hunger wasn’t there. I always want to give my all and I am not someone who just wants to make up the numbers, so this is the right time to step away,” Horton said.
“I have felt so privileged to represent Australia and wear the green and gold … I just hope Australia thinks I did them proud.
“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.
“And I hope they just remember me as Mack.”
Horton will also be remembered for the 2019 World Aquatics Championships, he had won silver in the 400m freestyle behind China’s Sun Yang and in a “standoff” refused to shake Sun Yang’s hand or stand on the winners’ podium.
In February 2020, Sun Yang was issued an eight-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for tampering with the doping control process.
“I don’t have any regrets … only that the years went so quickly,” Horton said.

“Swimming has been my life … and it’s the friends and relationships I’ve made that trump any gold medal.

“There are many people to thank … my parents firstly, 5am training sessions are brutal for the whole family, my coaches Craig Jackson and Michael Bohl, Ella, my friends who have supported me along the way – and my Dolphins’ teammates.”

Fittingly Dolphin #747, the jet Horton will start his new job in Melbourne – tomorrow (Monday).

Horton, who is the new President of the Australian Swimmers Association, will relocate to Melbourne from the Gold Coast in the next few months but will still satisfy his competitive edge by competing in endurance ironman events including The Coolangatta Gold.
“On behalf of Swimming Australia, I’d like to congratulate Mack on a wonderful career and wish him the very best for the future,” said Swimming Australia Interim CEO Steve Newman.
“He has been a prodigious talent, an incredible professional and a remarkable leader.”
Head coach Rohan Taylor added: “Mack is a person of great influence with constructive insights, and he is just a quality person. I want to express heartfelt gratitude to Mack for his achievements in and out of the water.”

“From a performance point of view, he was consistent and confident … in 2019 at the World Championships he didn’t have a great heat swim in the 4x200m freestyle relay but he was determined to correct this and anchor the final.

“And he delivered, swimming two and half, three seconds quicker.

“For me, that was one of his greatest moments. As an athlete leader, he respected those that came before him and those that came after him … and his perspective was invaluable not just to his teammates but to us as coaches.

“He was a world-class competitor, and a person with a high level of integrity. I know he is content with this decision, and he will be enormously successful in the next stage of his life.”

From all of us at Swimming Australia, thank you Mack. You more than did us proud.

  • Horton won an Olympic gold medal in the 400m free at Rio in 2016 and a bronze medal as a prelim swimmer on the 4x200m free relay in 2021 in Tokyo.
  • His 1:44.85 anchor was the fastest Australian leg at the 2019 World Championships, leading Australia to gold over Russia and the USA.
  • Including that 2019 relay title, he has 7 World Championship medals, 4 Pan Pac Championship medals, and 8 Commonwealth Games medals – including 4 gold.
  • Horton is a former World Junior Record holder in the 200m free, 400m free, and 800m free.
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4 thoughts on “Hail Mack Horton As 2016 Olympic Champ Retires, His Gold Steeped In What The True Athlete Voice Of Courage Is All About”

    Funny how there is absolutely no mention in this lengthy article as to how Mack Horton got totally hung out to dry by Swimming AUS when they covered up the Shayna Jack anti-doping suspension until the 2019 World Championship meet was almost over. It was a typical shameful moment for Swimming AUS, and Horton didn’t exactly speak out very forcefully regarding the Jack suspension and cover-up either.

    Tomas, this website and previous incarnations have covered the Shayna Jack saga from all its angles, including Swimming Australia’s poor handling of the situation in Gwangju. I don’t think your suggestion that Mack failed to speak out on the Jack situation holds water, many examples of media reports indicating the opposite, even at a time when the full details of the case were not known and investigations were continuing. Here’s an example – where Mack makes his view quite clear: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-28/mack-horton-shayna-jack-doping-test-swimming-championships/11354560

    Your selective clip, Robert, does not the whole picture tell… he was ‘silent’ only in that setting of being approached by a reporter who managed to get into a team setting. I can tell you as press that me and my colleagues would not have got anywhere close to being able/allowed to do that… and here is what silent meant in a clash of broadcasters trying to get the bigger snap: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-28/mack-horton-shayna-jack-doping-test-swimming-championships/11354560

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