Illness has forced Olympic champion Mack Horton to go into “damage control” at the Pan Pacs swimming in Tokyo.
But Horton believed the four-day meet may just prove a blessing for him ahead of Tokyo 2020 despite his shock results.
Horton’s underwhelming campaign continued on Saturday when he was upset by fellow Australian Jack McLoughlin in the 400m freestyle final – the event he claimed in Rio.
It was another blow for Horton who sensationally failed to qualify for the 200m freestyle final in Tokyo, and also missed the 4x200m relay team cut for Australia.
Horton revealed he had been struck down by a virus in the lead-up, robbing him of confidence-building training blocks.
Yet Horton reckoned he could find a silver lining to his ordeal.
“I was a bit sick after trials and again in Cairns (training camp),” he said.
“I missed a whole week in Cairns (with a virus) so it’s kind of been a bit of damage control.
“But it has been a good challenge mentally because I get my confidence from training and I missed quite a lot of that.
“This has been a good place to learn to find strengths in different ways mentally and taking confidence from different places rather than training.”
Horton admitted he would rather go through drama in Tokyo at the Pan Pacs than in two years’ time at the Olympics.
“Definitely. It just makes me want to go out there and train harder, and come back stronger,” he said.
McLoughlin bounced back from a disappointing bronze finish in his pet event 1500m in Tokyo by clocking a personal best three minutes, 44.20 seconds to pip Horton by 0.11 of a second.
Remarkably, Commonwealth 1500m champ McLoughlin was under world record time before being forced to dig deep on the final lap.
“I saw him coming in the last 50m and I was just trying to hold on because he’s the king at coming home – you saw that at Rio,” McLoughlin said.
“He’s obviously a mate of mine and it makes it a lot easier when the Olympic champion is a friend and your teammate.”
McLoughlin joined previous Australian Pan Pacs 400m winners Justin Lemberg (1985), Kieren Perkins (1991, 1993), Dan Kowalski (1995), Grant Hackett (1997) and Ian Thorpe (1999 and 2002).
Horton gets a shot at redemption in Sunday’s 800m freestyle which will also feature McLoughlin.