• To Birmingham 2022

Mitch Larkin and Mack Horton: From roommates to great mates

PRINT PAGE

The latest edition of Greater Together, sees Ian Hanson catch up with the swimming superstars who have developed a special friendship on the Australian Swim Team.

By Ian Hanson.

 

 

As the Tokyo Olympics are now underway after being postponed for twelve months, swimming superstars Mitch Larkin and Mack Horton, reflect on how the friendship began as roommates at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and now have them rooming again in Japan.

Larkin, then 20-years-old, and Horton, then just 17-years-old and making his international debut at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Scotland, signalled a renaissance of Australian swimming after a period of turbulence.

After the Australian swim team dominated the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games with 54 medals – 22 gold, 16 silver and 16 bronze – the swimming team at the London 2012 Olympics sadly suffered from what was described as a “toxic” team culture that impeded performance.

Changes were made within the sport, and the changes began bearing fruit in Glasgow, spearheaded by young swimmers like Larkin and Horton, who both won gold.

Mitch Larkin and Mack Horton were both medal winners at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. (Getty Images)

 

The surges in performance continued through the Rio 2016 Olympics where the pair were once again assigned as roommates in the Athlete’s Village.

Larkin was preparing for his first swim on day two of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and normally it would be a light swim followed by dinner at the village, a chat with friends and an early night.

But it’s not every night that your roommate lines up in the greatest swim of his life so Mitch knew he had to go to the opening swimming session of the Games.

Just days before the Australian swim team left for Tokyo, Commonwealth Games Australia dialled into their Cairns Hotel room with the Australian Swim Team to find out how the pair remain ‘Greater Together’.

The duo getting ready to take on the world’s best at the Tokyo Olympics. (Source: Delly Carr)

 

The pair will again share an apartment in the Tokyo Village as Larkin, the star of the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, prepares for his third Games in the 100m backstroke and the 200IM and Horton for the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay – in his second Olympics after missing out on the chance to defend his 400m crown.

The pair have built up a very special friendship on a team that has developed some strong bonds as they come together chasing Games glory dating back to those Games some seven years ago.

And as their undying friendship further developed when they made the Dolphins team for the 2015 World Championships, but it was their experiences at the Rio 2016 Games, Larkin’s second Olympic campaign and Horton’s Olympic debut.

And on the eve of the Tokyo campaign Larkin has given an exclusive insight into the night his roommate won gold.

Mack Horton claimed gold in the men’s 400m freestyle at the Rio 2016 Olympics. (Getty Images)

 

“Mack probably doesn’t known this but I remember Rio really well…. obviously, night one was Mack’s 400m and then day two I had my 100m backstroke heat,” Larkin said in our interview from the room, with Horton sitting on the bed next to him.

“Usually, I’d try and get an early night and try and relax and chill out and stay in a nice quiet place in the Village.

“But when your roommate is racing in one of his biggest races of his life, you’ve got to go to the pool to watch it.

“And I remember going to the pool and being absolutely wrapped for him and when I returned to the Village I couldn’t sleep.

“I knew he would not be home any time soon with all the media commitments and drug testing and everything that goes on post an Olympic final.

“But I was actually awake when Mack came into the room, and I could tell he was trying to be pretty quiet and play it down and he was nervous that I had a swim coming up tomorrow.

“But I sat up and said, ‘OK show us your medal’, it was like there was this elephant in the room where he was trying to hide.

“As if I didn’t know that he had just won the biggest race of his life –  it was pretty funny… a moment like that is so rare so you’ve got to celebrate it.

“You never know when you are going to get another one like that.

“I remember that really well… Mack probably doesn’t… he was floating on cloud nine.”

And Larkin was right, with Horton piping up with: ”You know, you’re right Mitch…I don’t remember it at all… but it’s nice to hear that story though… thanks mate. It’s quite touching.”

The duo at the Dolphins swim team camp ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. (Source: Delly Carr)

 

But what Horton does remember is the support Larkin has given him, particularly when he was struggling with poor form at the 2015 World Championships

“We started to get closer in 2014 and 2015,” recalled Horton.

“I remember we were sitting at dinner one night and I had swum pretty average and Mitch had been killing it and he was telling me ‘you’ll make it one day mate…you just gotta keep slogging it out…’.”

It was Larkin’s advice that Horton sought after doubting himself after making one of the biggest decisions of his life at the 2019 World Champions in Gwangju, South Korea.

At the championship, Horton’s decision not to stand on that dais after finishing second to controversial Chinese swimmer Sun Yang in the 400m freestyle caused one of the biggest storms in world sport, – with Sun eventually suspended until 2024.

But Horton’s decision to stand up for what he believed in brought unprecedented attention to him personally as he continued to stand up for clean sport.

However the attention also brought a newfound pressure on Horton meaning he needed support and got it from a friend.

Zac Stubblety-Cook was also in our room in Gwangju,” Larkin said.

“And the two of us helped get Mack through a pretty scary time; he really didn’t know what was going on and we let him know with ‘hey mate we’ve got your back; I stand by you for what you (did) and said, it was pretty memorable.

“I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve got a friend, a teammate and a roommate that stands up for what he believes in.”

And Horton was quick to acknowledge Larkin’s support.

“That was so nice and I have vivid memories of sitting down eating cereal with Mitch in our apartment and I think we ‘borrowed the bowls’ from somewhere and then bought cereal and milk so we wouldn’t have to go to the dining hall,” Horton said.

“We had a couple of really rough weeks but with Mitch and the team it’s so good to know they do have your back.

“It is very special and it made it a lot easier. When you do something and you have doubts when you start.

“But when you start getting support from your team mates like Mitch and Zac and your family it becomes really reassuring.”

 

“And the two of us helped get Mack through a pretty scary time; he really didn’t know what was going on and we let him know with ‘hey mate we’ve got your back; I stand by you for what you (did) and said, it was pretty memorable.

“I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve got a friend, a teammate and a roommate that stands up for what he believes in.”

Mitch Larkin on Mack Horton not taking to the medal dais.

 

Although the Mack and Mitch show have a lot of fun together, at times the duo can be like “the odd couple.”

“After every meal all I want to do is go back to the room and sleep and Mitch just loiters and lingers around because he finds someone else to talk to,” Horton said.

To which Larkin retorted.

“I love the team room and hanging out together, having a laugh, there’s always a really nice vibe to hang out,” Larkin said.

“And I am a little bit of a chatterbox. Mum always used to call me “have-a-chat Mitch”… because I’d always stop and talk to random people in shopping centres.

“When I’m training it’s the workplace and I’ve got a job to do… that’s always the way I approach things… but once the session is done and we are sitting down having a meal, I like to be social and have a chat… and talk!”

Competing on the international stage and doing what they do can get pretty stressful at times.

“But we come back to the room, and you know that each other is pretty tired and you may have had a big training set you don’t feel like you have to talk to one another,” Larkin said.

“We either put our headphones in or watch our own separate Netflix and chill out.

“It’s rather nice that you don’t have to entertain the other person… Mack is always there is he wants to have a chat.“

Horton, who will contest the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo, says for the pair their peaceful time is limited.

“Once we get there it’s going to be hectic, so it’s just about making the most of the minutes we have just to relax together,” Horton said.

When it has been swum and hopefully won, Mack and Mitch will know their “long distance relationship” – Horton in Melbourne and Larkin in Brisbane won’t stop them getting together in the future.

“I’ll go down to Melbourne and we’ll go out to dinner,  no matter what directions we go in post swimming we will always have that special and close connection and bond and who knows? ” Larkin said.

“… maybe some adventure action together.”

Horton laughs.

“It’s like the whole swim,” Horton said.

“We are so close, you can be in any city in Australia and catch up with one of your team mates and it’s like you have never been away.”

And when their time in the pool is done, there will be plenty of stories to reflect on from these two roomies who are certainly “Greater Together”.

OTHER NEWS