The pain of not qualifying to defend his Olympic 400 metres title in Tokyo led Mack Horton to the big decision to switch coaches, leaving Craig Jackson after 14 years and relocating to the Gold Coast to train under Michael Bohl.
But it meant far more than just a move away from Melbourne.
“It was a chance to refresh and reset,” he told Wide World of Sports.
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“When I moved, Bohly said that I had to forget everything I’d learned about swimming. Part of the trick of moving squads and programs is not comparing the two, because if you do you’ll destroy yourself internally.
“It’s about forgetting what I’ve done in the past and trusting Michael with his processes.
“I’m really loving training with the squad, there’s about 20 of us and it’s a very high calibre group.”
Horton embraced the move, and the instruction to forget what he’d learned over more than a decade.
“It’s about making yourself as coachable as possible,” he explains.
If I was constantly comparing what I’m doing now with what I was doing in the past, there could be doubt or questions in my mind.
“You have to let it go and go with the new process and have the trust.
”I loved training with Craig, but I’d been with him for 14 years, since I was about 10-years-old all the way through to an Olympic gold medal,” he added.
“There was a long history there, a lot of time in the same program, so it was very refreshing to go and do something else.”
Horton swam 3:41.55 to win the 400m in Rio in 2016, a time that would have been good enough for gold in Tokyo had he qualified.
The FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will be broadcast exclusively live and free on Nine and 9Now from December 13-18.
It also would have won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year, where Horton finished third in 3:46.49.
“If I didn’t think I could keep getting better, I probably wouldn’t still be swimming,” he explained, when asked if he could regain the form from 2016.
“I still have plenty of desire to keep improving.”
The bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games came in an all-Aussie podium, with Elijah Winnington and teenager Samuel Short filling the first two spots.
Horton condes that having two younger compatriots outperforming him in his pet event is “tricky”.
“But it’s also fun and it keeps me honest,” he noted.
“It’s great for Australia to have that next generation pushing through. If we want to continue to keep being a great swimming nation we need that.
“I don’t want to finish swimming with nobody else to hand the baton to in that event.
“Part of the responsibility of being a sportsman is to leave swimming better than you found it, and to keep pushing the younger guys along.”
Horton will swim both the 400m and the 800m at the World Swimming Championships (short course) that begin in Melbourne on Tuesday.
But his build-up has been very relaxed, which was evident when Wide World of Sports asked who he thought his biggest threats might be.
“I can’t tell you because I actually haven’t looked at the entry lists,” he laughed.
“But usually the biggest threat is yourself. It’s a battle of the mind. The focus is on myself and what I need to do.”
It’s also one of the few times the swimmers get to perform in front of a home crowd at a major meet.
“It’s very cool, the only other time I’ve swum internationally in Australia was Gold Coast 2018, and that was incredible, but never in Melbourne, which is my home town,” Horton said.
“It’s very exciting to have family and friends who can attend who haven’t probably seen me swim internationally before.”
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