Mack Horton looks a lot like Clark Kent on pool deck, but in the water he is every inch a “superfish”.
The Melbourne swimmer unveiled his star potential at the Commonwealth Games trials in Brisbane on Sunday night, clocking a 1500m freestyle junior world record 14 minutes 51.55 seconds.
Horton’s time was fourth on the Australian all-time list for the event.
The only 17-year-old Australian to swim the distance faster is Kieren Perkins (14:50.98) at the 1991 World Championships in Perth.
After Australia’s shocking pool performance at the 2012 London Olympics, a new surge of talent is replacing an era marked by athlete misbehaviour and stories of retirement blues from Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett.
Horton, 17, is among the emerging Dolphins who need to leave the sport’s troubled waters in their wake and build a future of optimism.
Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games isn’t the biggest pond for Horton but this fresh breed of rookies is exactly what Swimming Australia needs after a turbulent few years.
Horton, who has a Perkins-like, wiry physique, is well aware of Australia’s great legacy of 1500m swimmers, including his sporting hero, Hackett.
“I have the list of age record holders on a piece of paper above my bed. I try to match that each year to help tell me whether I am on the right path,” Horton told reporters.
“I look at the best (at each age), reflect on that and try and implement it into my training.”
While Horton’s world-class time stole the limelight on the trials’ final night, Eamon Sullivan surprised the Chandler crowd to post a slick 21.90 seconds, winning the 50m freestyle.
In-form sprinter Cameron McEvoy finished second in 21.97.
After the infamous 2012 Stillnox episode, in which Sullivan was a ringleader, the 28-year-old sprinter bounced back to qualify for Glasgow.
“I really think I can get back to my best,” Sullivan said. “I was just trying to get back into the system ahead of Rio (2016 Olympics) which is the main goal. I was planning this (result) this time next year. It is really encouraging.”
Sullivan, who at 28 is the oldest Australian swimmer on the team, is facing shoulder surgery next week and must pass a fitness test for Glasgow.
Meanwhile, there are 15 rookies on the Australian team, which highlights the youthful turnover of the group. The average age of the team is 21.
A new-look Swimming Australia delegation, with high performance director Michael Scott and head coach Jacco Verhaeren, will aim to instil a disciplined team culture to achieve consistent results.
“I believe they are coming into an improved culture,” Scott said. “When new swimmers come into the team we have strong leaders who set the example, who teach the rookies ‘this is how the team operates’- it is not us lecturing athletes.
“We have a long way to go but it’s positive that we are moving forward in creating a new team dynamic.”
Australia will compete in Glasgow from July 24, 2014.
Team for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games
(*indicates Para Sport athletes):
*Joshua Alford, 18 (NSW), Jessica Ashwood, 20 (NSW), *Jesse Aungles, 18 (SA), Bronte Barratt, 25 (Qld), Joshua Beaver, 21 (Vic), Alanna Bowles, 16 (Qld), Cate Campbell, 21 (Qld), Bronte Campbell , 19 (Qld), *Blake Cochrane, 23 (Qld), Alicia Coutts, 26 (Qld), *Matthew Cowdrey, 25 (SA), Laura Crockart, 19 (NSW), *Rowan Crothers, 16 (Qld), Tommaso D’Orsogna, 23 (Qld), *Katherine Downie, 18 (WA), Brittany Elmslie, 19 (Qld), *Daniel Fox, 22 (Qld), *Maddison Elliott, 15 (NSW), Remy Fairweather, 17 (Qld), Thomas Fraser-Holmes, 22 (Qld), *Jacqueline Freney, 21 (NSW), Ellen Gandy, 22 (Vic), Jared Gilliland, 19 (Qld), Madeline Groves, 18 (Qld), Jayden Hadler, 20 (NSW), *Brenden Hall, 20 (Qld), Jordan Harrison, 18 (Qld), Belinda Hocking, 23 (Vic), Mack Horton, 17 (Vic), Sally Hunter, 28 (SA), Grant Irvine, 23 (Qld), *Mitchell Kilduff, 18 (NSW), Mitch Larkin 20 (Qld), Matson Lawson, 21 (Vic), Mathew Levings, 20 (Qld), James Magnussen, 22 (NSW), Travis Mahoney, 23 (Vic), Cameron McEvoy, 19 (Qld), Ned McKendry, 21 (Qld), David McKeon, 21 (NSW), Emma McKeon, 19 (NSW), Taylor McKeown, 19 (Qld), Keryn McMaster, 20 (Qld), Meagan Nay, 25 (Qld), Kotuku Ngawati, 19 (Vic), Jessica Pengelly, 22 (WA), Leiston Pickett, 22 (Qld), Mitchell Pratt, 18 (Vic), Melanie Schlanger, 27 (Qld), *Madeleine Scott, 21 (WA), Emily Seebohm, 21 (Qld), Christian Sprenger, 28 (Qld), Eamon Sullivan, 28 (WA), Kenneth To, 21 (NSW), Lorna Tonks, 25 (Qld), Daniel Tranter, 25 (Qld), Ben Treffers, 22 (NSW), Tessa Wallace, 20 (Qld), Chris Wright, 25 (Qld). (*indicates Para Sport athletes):
Coaches: Jacco Verhaeren (national head coach), Brant Best, Peter Bishop, Matthew Brown, Simon Cusack, John Fowlie, Rob Hindmarsh, Craig Jackson, Chris Mooney, Vince Raleigh, Richard Scarce, Rohan Taylor.
Head of delegation: SA high performance director Michael Scott