Horton must do it hard way at world championships
SWIMMING: Mack Horton will have to do a Kieren Perkins at the 1996 Olympics and win from the outside lane if he is to claim the world 1500m freestyle title in Budapest on Sunday.
Horton slightly miscalculated what ended up being a slow heat, clocking 14:59.24 and qualifying for the final but just 0.2 sec.
Ukrainian surprise packet Mykhailo Romanchuk set a personal best time of 14:44.11 to qualify fastest just ahead of Olympic and world champion Gregorio Paltrinieri (14:44.31) with Olympic bronze medallist Gabriele Detti third through (14:50.10).
Horton was seventh fastest which means he will swim from lane one in the final, away from the centre of the action, but that didn't faze him on Saturday.
"I thought we were a bit faster than that, I thought we were 14:55 or below,” he confessed.
"That was just a slow heat, but it felt pretty good. The first 600 I was super chilled and then I picked it up. All I need is a lane.
"I just thought top two in that heat would be safe so that's what I was aiming for.”
It was safe but not without a moment of anxiety as five men swam faster in the final heat.
However Horton said he was trying to save as much energy as possible for looming battle with his friend and rival Paltrinieri in the final.
"They are wasting a lot of energy right now,” he said as he watched Paltrinieri and Romanchuk go head to head in their heat.
"I think that's what caught me up in Rio. I just didn't have that energy at the back end of the week. I got through the heat and that was easy but when I got to the final I was pretty cooked. It's just been about conservation this week.”
Horton's challenge faded out towards the end of the Olympic final last year and he finished fifth in 14:49.54. But he is determined to get onto the podium.
He said he and coach Craig Jackson would develop their final strategy based on their assessment of the heats but it would be 'a secret' until the race began.
Paltrinieri, who plans to head to Melbourne to train with Horton for seven months from September, said he would be keeping an eye out for the Australian in the final.
"I think he is a big competitor. He is in the final so I will look at him sometimes during the race because he is dangerous,” Paltrinieri said.
"But all the field is very dangerous. Romanchuk is swimming very well and Wojciech (Wojdak), two days ago he beat me (in the 800m final). So everyone. I just want to swim my race and do my best. I love Mack. But I want to beat him.”
Australia's second entrant in the 1500m, Rio Olympian Jack McLoughlin was drawn in the same slow heat as Horton and just missed the cut, finishing 11th in 15:01.55.