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Mack Horton announcement leaves swimming world saddened ahead of Paris Olympics

The 27-year-old won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and famously clashed with Sun Yang in and out of the pool.

Mack Horton.
Mack Horton has announced his retiremenr from swimming at age 27. Image: Getty

Swimming fans and commentators are paying tribute to Mack Horton after the Aussie champion announced his retirement from the sport on Sunday. The 27-year-old revealed the sad news just six months out from the Paris Olympics, saying he has lost his desire to compete at the elite level.

"I dearly wanted to swim in Paris but the hunger wasn't there," he said in a statement released by Swimming Australia. "I always want to give my all and I am not someone who just wants to make up the numbers, so this is the right time to step away.

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"I have felt so privileged to represent Australia and wear the green and gold. I just hope Australia thinks I did them proud. I am so grateful for my time in swimming and in regard to legacy, I hope my teammates and the sport think that I was able to help them and the sport in some way. And I hope they just remember me as Mack."

Mack Horton, pictured here after winning gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Mack Horton won gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Horton won gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and a bronze in the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo in 2021. He was a renowned advocate for clean sport and famously clashed with drug-tainted Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.

He will be widely remembered for refusing to shake Sun's hand or stand on the same podium as him after getting silver behind the Chinese swimmer at the world championships in 2019. He copped backlash in China for taking a stand, but won widespread praise around the rest of the world.

Sun was hit with an eight-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2020 for tampering with the doping control process. He later had the suspension cut in half, but appears unlikely to win selection for the Paris Games this year.

Swimming world reacts to sad news about Mack Horton

Horton said on Sunday: "I don't have any regrets … only that the years went so quickly. Swimming has been my life … and it's the friends and relationships I've made that trump any gold medal."

The 27-year-old has been overtaken in recent years by a younger generation of Aussie swimmers, with Elijah Winnington and Sam Short among the fastest in the world in 200m and 400m. Short will head to the Paris Olympics as a genuine gold medal contender in the 400.

Horton was recently married and is the new president of the Australian Swimmers Association. He will relocate to Melbourne from the Gold Coast in the next few months to begin the new role.

Australian team head coach Rohan Taylor praised Horton as a leader, saying: “Mack is a person of great influence with constructive insights, and he is just a quality human. I want to express heartfelt gratitude to Mack for his achievements in and out of the water.

“From a performance point of view, he was consistent and confident. As an athlete leader, he respected those that came before him and those that came after him … and his perspective was invaluable not just to his teammates but to us as coaches.

“He was a world-class competitor, and a person with a high level of integrity. I know he is content with this decision, and he will be enormously successful in the next stage of his life.”

Mack Horton and Sun Yang in 2019.
Mack Horton refused to stand on the podium with Sun Yang at the world championships in 2019. (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images) (ED JONES via Getty Images)

Swimming Australia's interim CEO Steve Newman said: “On behalf of Swimming Australia, I’d like to congratulate Mack on a wonderful career and wish him the very best for the future. He has been a prodigious talent, an incredible professional and a remarkable leader.”

Horton also won seven medals at world championships, four at Pan Pac Championships and eight at the Commonwealth Games - including four gold. His 1:44.85 anchor was the fastest leg when the Aussies beat Russia and America in the 4x200m relay at the world championships in 2019.

with AAP

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