McLoughlin beats his hero Mack to take title
IT was expected to be the moment Mack Horton was finally anointed the distance king.
Instead, it was the man who just three years ago finished a full lap behind his hero, who claimed his place in the fabled history of the 1500m.
Jack McLoughlin attacked the famous race to lead from start to finish, a gutsy performance from a man thrilled to have written his name into history alongside a legion of distance stars, including Grant Hackett, Kieren Perkins and Steve Holland.
The race was expected to be the Mack and Jack show.
But most expected Horton to finally snare the 1500m title he had coveted for so long.
McLoughlin had other ideas, though, using the wisdom gleaned at a lunch with former coach Laurie Lawrence to embrace the pain of the great race to hold off fast-finishing Welshman Daniel Jervis to reach the wall in 14min 47.09 sec to record a famous win.
"(Lawrence) said the 1500m is all mental and when you are hurting you have to tighten the screws even more," said McLoughlin, the Brisbane 23-year-old regarded as one of the hardest workers in Australian swimming.
As expected, McLoughlin led out, knowing Horton's turn of speed would be too great to withstand in the closing stages if he did not hold a lead.
Horton moved on to his shoulder after 500m but McLoughlin continued to push and at the point Horton had been expected to challenge, McLoughlin kicked again and pushed through the pain.
"I could hear the crowd just urging me on the last 300m," McLoughlin said.
"I was hurting so much. I knew he has a strong back end and I knew Mack could get a good sprint going as well.
"I was just trying to hang on for dear life."
Horton finished third behind Jervis in 14:51.05 and had only praise for his rival.
"Jack is probably one of the hardest working guys," Horton said. "I'm happy for him to get the win. I thought if anyone beat me, I wanted it to be Jack."
McLoughlin beat Horton for the first time at last month's Games trials, the win instilling the belief he was now racing to win, rather than just eat the wake of Horton, the man anointed as Australia's next great 1500m champion.
It was not always so.
When the pair faced off at the 2015 nationals in Sydney, McLoughlin finished a full lap behind Horton but he will head to Tokyo as Australia's top chance in the famous race, with Horton all but certain to jettison the 1500m from his schedule to concentrate on the 200m and 400m, as well as the 800m which will make its debut on the Olympic program in 2020.
McLoughlin credits Horton for driving him to faster times and more work in the pool.
"It's great having someone of that calibre, an Olympic champion, because you know every time you come to a meet I'm going to have to beat the best in the world if I want to win," McLoughlin said.
"It pushes me really hard in training.
"When I first raced Mack three years ago he had 50m on me at nationals in Sydney."
Horton gave the greatest indication yet at these Games that his future may not include the 1500m.
But his silver medal in the 200m behind Kyle Chalmers at these Games, won after he stripped almost a second from his previous best, could force him to rethink his strategy.
"I think I know what I can do but I've just got to work on it," Horton said.
"It's going to help the 400m, so I'll reassess my whole event structure, I think."
"Looking forward to Tokyo, which is ultimately the goal, I have to find a balance between the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m and where I sit."