Parasitic Bug Explains Mack Horton’s Lackluster Swims In Kazan

The 2015 Championship season started out with big-time swims from Australian Mack Horton at the Australian Nationals in April, setting the stage for a pair of potentially ground-breaking swims for the young Melbourne Vicentre swimmer come Kazan.  But, when swimming’s most competitive meet outside of the Olympics, the FINA World Championships, finally came around, the 19 year-old failed to even make the finals for his two hallmark races, the men’s 400m and 1500m freestyles.

Earlier in April, Horton clocked a then-top time in the world mark of 14:44.09 in the 1500m free to set a new All Comers record, overtaking the previous time held by none other than the legendary Grant Hackett who was on deck watching the young star.  Then, in his 400m freestyle event at the same meet, Horton posted a 3:42.84 to win the event and also take over the world ranking throne at the time. Horton’s performance also beat his lifetime best of 3:44.60 which he posted at this same meet last year.

Owning the top two times in the world headed into Kazan, Horton was most certainly a favorite for a podium spot in both events, even when pitted against more experienced powerhouses such as China’s Sun Yang and Canada’s Ryan Cochrane. As such, when Horton failed to make the final in either of these events in Kazan, eyebrows were raised seeing the youngster well off his game when he previously looked to be in prime form.

Now, it appears the cause of Horton’s sub-par performances can be blamed on a specific reason, as recent medical tests have revealed that Horton was suffering from the microscopic parasite, Blastocystis hominis. Based on the timing, Horton either contracted the bug at the team’s staging camp in Doha, or upon arrival in Kazan.

Within two days of arriving in Kazan, Horton dropped a remarkable 11 lbs while enduring a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.  However, according to The Australian, Horton continued to feel fatigued throughout the meet, summoning up just enough energy to claim the bronze medal in the 800m freestyle.

Said Horton of his inexplicably ‘off’ performances, “I knew something had gone wrong because in Doha I was feeling very good in the water. I was ready to race and doing some fairly decent times. Then I got a bit of gastro, which I put down to the change of food in Kazan. That settled down but I never recovered. I was just ­fatigued the whole time.”

As many athletes do in Horton’s situation, he said he didn’t want to admit to coaches and teammates that he was indeed sick. Says Horton “It was easier just to get on with the job, so I just battled it out through Russia and then had three weeks off when I felt pretty normal.”

The Commonwealth Games multi-medalist said that Swimming Australia board member Nicole Livingstone kept prompting him to get tested, just to ensure that there wasn’t anything more serious going on.  The results were received while Horton was attending Australia’s Rio protocol camp last month, spurring the team doctor to start an antibiotic regimen immediately.

“I was very disappointed after Kazan but I didn’t want to mope around so I took three weeks off to reset and get ready for the next push to Rio,’’ Horton said. “But I was thinking that there had been something wrong with my preparation, so it’s good to know that it was an illness and I can assume that everything else I am doing is all right.’’

Currently, Horton is waiting to receive ‘the all-clear from his latest medical tests’ so he can ramp up is training in the hopes of earning a roster spot in his pet event, the grueling 1500m, an event obviously demanding of one’s stamina to the fullest.

Trying to look on the bright side of his misfortune and bad timing, Horton can still glean a lesson from the ordeal. “I now have the experience of being able to push through and get on with it when things turn to crap, and I might need that if anything goes wrong at the Olympics,’’ he said.

Of note, Horton’s times from the Australian Championships still sit as 3rd-fastest (1500m) and 2nd-fastest (400m) in the world this year.

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jay ryan
7 years ago

If he had gastroenteritis, that is one thing that could cause the poor performance. It was not due to Blastocystis hominis, however, as that is a nonpathogenic saprophyte (does not cause disease). Most cases of gastroenteritis are caused by organisms that are not readily cultured or identified. These attacks improve with time. Those that do not improve are sometimes due to pathogenic organisms such as Entameba histolytica or Giardia Lamblia. He should have been back up to snuff in a week or two. Too late for Kazan but nothing to write home about.

Dr Aqua
Reply to  jay ryan
7 years ago

I completely disagree with Jay Ryan’s comment. Blastocystis Hominis DOES cause disease and wreak havoc with the intestines and immune systems of people (who don’t also have Giardia, etc.) When infected with Blastocystis Hominis, a person will have severe abdominal pain, frequent diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset, fatigue, headache, and more symptoms. It can damage intestinal walls. Obviously, not good for an athlete. I suspect that Blastocystis Hominis is in the swimming pool water, oceans, etc., where swimmers train and compete. As such, it keeps spreading and reinfecting swimmers. Converse to what you write, Blastocystis Hominis is something to write home about and something to GET TREATED ASAP before it ruins athletic performance. Doctors who don’t take this diagnosis seriously should be… Read more »

7 years ago

That explains so much. I knew there was something terribly wrong. The kid looks like Clark Kent to me. I guess even Superman can be knocked down by parasites! We will see great swims from him in the future, no doubt.

7 years ago

It’s good to hear a medical reason for his underperformance. It was painful to watch such a huge talent underperform in Kazan. Let it rip going into Rio.

Gina Rhinestone
7 years ago

Oh & like mum said – wash your hands before eating .

Gina Rhinestone
7 years ago

‘ Patterns of infection with intestinal parasites in Qatar among food handlers & housemaids from different geographical regions of origin ‘ 2008 Actatropic April 2008 . 39% positive.

The premises may look swank in the Emirate nations but their workers are hospitality slaves recruited from 2-3rd tier nations & housed in cramped accom & forced to work long hours .

Never eat chicken whilst travelling & drink coca cola .

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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