20 year old Mack Horton was one of two Australian athletes to capture individual gold in Rio winning the men’s 400 freestyle. Since the age of 12 Horton has been coached by Craig Jackson at the Melbourne Vicentre. The two have grown together creating an extremely successful partnership, which has seen Horton set several junior world records and stand atop of the podium at the Olympic Games.
“I took the job here in Melbourne in 2008,” Jackson told SwimSwam.
“I came in as the national age coach and that is where I started working with Mack. He was 12 years old turning 13 at that stage. I have sort of grown with the group.”
Horton started to truly make a name for himself at the 2012 Australian Championships where he finished second to Jarrod Poort in the 1500 freestyle at the age of 15. Although he did finish in the top two at the Olympic trials he was not able to swim in London because he failed make the FINA qualifying standard. Later that year he went on to win the 1500 freestyle and finish second in the 400 freestyle at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.
At the 2013 Junior World Championships he collected gold in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle as well as the 4 x 100 freestyle, setting new junior world records in all four of his individual events.
At the 2014 Australian Championships Horton qualified for his first senior national team winning the 1500 freestyle and finishing second in the 400 freestyle while at the same competition setting junior world records in the 200, 400 and 1500 freestyle. Later that year he finished second in the 1500 freestyle at the Commonwealth Games and won silver in the 800 freestyle and bronze in the 1500 freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships.
In 2015 he won a bronze in the 800 freestyle at the World Championships in Kazan and followed that up by taking gold in the 400 freestyle in Rio.
Horton’s Personality and Potential
Jackson saw the potential Horton had at the age of 12, “I saw him swim a 400 freestyle. He didn’t swim it particularly that well because he ended up getting beaten by another kid. You could see there was a huge amount of room to improve, but the basics were there. Essentially the tools were there to make a highly skilled swimmer.”
“The biggest thing was he wasn’t afraid to do the work he loved to challenge himself in sets, he didn’t shy away from working and working hard. I think that is the key for someone who is going to swim 1500 and 400. He thrived on hurting himself during a session.”
Jackson explains his attitude has not changed much since that time, “When you watch him there is the fact that he will just keep pushing himself,” explains Jackson.
“Mack has always been one that if you set a goal time for him he is going to work his butt off to hit it and nine times out of 10 he will get it.”
Horton has always had the willingness to do the work and as a young swimmer Jackson taught him to challenge what he thought those limits were,”I think as a youngster it was a case of encouraging him to learn a bit more about himself. When he was younger it was learning to push those limits so that he could discover where the bar is at.”
As he has matured Jackson has worked with Horton to understand and take the recovery he needs to continue to consistently train at the highest level, “Now as he is maturing it is a case of a big thing is working on how we recover him as an athlete and how we monitor that. It was great as a youngster to keep pushing and keep pushing until he did fall in a hole, but now it is a case of being a little bit more intelligent about how we do that work and how we get the work done and recover in between so we can keep at a high level.”
Horton’s schedule is as follows:
Monday – two sessions in the pool + one gym session
Tuesday – two sessions in the pool + one pilates session
Wednesday – a recovery session in the pool + one gym session
Thursday – two sessions in the pool + one pilates session
Friday – two sessions in the pool + one gym session
Saturday – one session in the pool
In those 10 swim sessions Horton averages between 60-65,000 meters and will get up to 70,000 meters at his peak and the volume will drop down to 40,000 meters during his taper.
Jackson’s group works closely with the Victoria Institute of Sport. The athletes train with the institute’s strength and conditioning coaches and also work closely with the institute’s biomechanist. Leading into the Australian trials and then into Rio Jackson had the biomechanist on deck up to five times a week to work with Horton, “The biomechanist comes in three times a week and we had her doing additional work leading into trials and into Rio monitoring turns under pressure. She was in on some weeks an additional two sessions.”
“In key sets what we were doing with Mack was filming and monitoring his turns. Checking for technique, timing and the execution of the turns.”
“You can do work in isolation, but it is how they execute it under fatigue and pressure is the true test.”
When discussing the development of Horton over the past eight years Jackson explains that their top priority has been building a strong technical base, “The first part of his progression was setting his technique. He had the making of a really skilled swimmer, but we had to really work on his efficiency. We set that as a main goal and we did a lot of work around stroke count. ”
“A big thing to begin with was to focus on his efficiency and set that as a benchmark and from there improve his rating.”
One of the main sets that they do on a consistent basis that is based around the 400 freestyle is as follows:
3 x (8 x 50 at 400 pace + 300 L1 as removal + 100 recovery)
Goal pace – 26 high to 27 low
Stroke count – 28 strokes
Stroke rate – 35 SPM
Early season pace time is @ 50 seconds
Mid season pace time is @ 45 seconds
Leading into taper the pace time is @ 40 seconds
One of the keys to the success that Horton has achieved is the relationship he has built with Jackson over the last eight years. The two have worked together to develop the potential he showed at an extremely young age and even though he reached the pinnacle of the sport in Rio that is not where either of their journeys will end.