Mack Horton’s Olympic title defence turns to dust after failing to qualify

Sport

Mack Horton won’t defend his Olympic 400m freestyle title in Tokyo after failing to make the Australian team for the event.

Horton finished third in the final at Australia’s selection trials in Adelaide on Saturday night. Only the top two – Elihaj Winnington and Jack McLoughlin – earned selection for next month’s Tokyo Olympics.

The opening night of the trials featured Australian records to Emma McKeon (100m butterfly) and Brendon Smith (400m individual medley).

But Horton was unable to secure selection at the South Australian Aquatic Centre despite coming almost two-and-half-seconds inside the qualifying time. Winnington won in three minutes and 42.65 seconds ahead of McLoughlin (3:43.27).

Horton, who clocked 3:43.92, is still a chance to earn selection in the 200m freestyle, to be contested Sunday.

Earlier, McKeon broke her own national 100m butterfly record and was on world-record pace until fading in the last five metres. The multi-talented swimmer, who could race as many as eight events in Tokyo, won in 55.93 seconds, bettering her previous Australian record of 56.18.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom holds the world record (55.48), and McKeon had no idea she was close to that benchmark. “That gives me confidence,” she said. “It’s significantly faster than what I have been going for the last four years.”

McKeon, who won four medals – gold and two silvers in relays and a bronze in the 200m freestyle – at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said she was benefiting from the Tokyo Games being postponed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Having that extra year definitely helped. I really feel a lot stronger and just a lot more confident in my ability compared to March last year,” she said. “I was definitely ready and well-prepared if the Olympics were on last year. Having that extra year just got me even more ready.”

In the men’s 400m medley, 20-year-old Smith set an Australian record of four minutes 10.04 seconds – a tenth of a second quicker than Thomas Fraser-Holmes’s previous mark. Second-placed Se-Bom Lee also earned Olympic selection by finishing inside the qualifying time.