International row after Aussie swimmer ‘disrespects China’
Sun Yang has dramatically raised the stakes in his bitter feud with Mack Horton by threatening to turn their explosive fallout at the world swimming championships Sunday night into an international incident.
Sun was left fuming when Horton refused to share the podium with him after he beat the Australian to win the gold medal in the 400m freestyle and has accused him of disrespecting the whole of China.
"I was aware that the Australian athlete had dissatisfaction and personal feelings towards me," Sun said.
"But it was unfortunate because disrespecting me is okay but disrespecting China was very unfortunate and I felt sorry about that."
China and Australia engaged in a bitter war of words three years ago when Horton called Sun a drug cheat during the Rio Olympics after he'd secretly served a three-month suspension after testing positive to a banned stimulant.
Horton was inundated with thousands of hateful messages from Sun's fanatical Chinese supporters while the Chinese swimming federation and state run media demanded an apology from Australia.
What an absolute legend, @_mackhorton you will always be the real champ. @fina1908 start protecting the clean athletes and stop allowing this sport to be tarnished by letting this drugs cheat compete. Idiots pic.twitter.com/BGJS0csDe6— Chris Walker-Hebborn (@WalkerHebborn) July 21, 2019
And now the gloves are off again after Horton's extraordinary silent protest at the medal ceremony, which follows revelations Sun escaped punishment after destroying one of his own doping samples last year before it could be tested for drugs.
The doping panel that investigated Sun cleared him of any wrongdoing but the World Anti-Doping Agency has lodged an appeal that will be heard in September.
British Olympic champion Adam Peaty and American Rio gold medallist Lily King have questioned why Sun is being allowed to compete at the world championships and Australia's swimmers said they stood in solidarity with Horton.
"I support clean sport and I support swimmers standing up for their beliefs," said Australian sprint queen Cate Campbell, who has a vocal campaigner for tougher sanctions against athletes who break the rules.
"I think that Mack did an incredible job and we'll take it as a win for Australia."
Australian head coach Jacco Verhaeren said none of the Dolphins had any idea that Horton was going to protest but said he had the full backing of everyone in the team.
"Nobody actually knew, that was his idea to do that," the Dutchman said.
"Let's put it this way, I understand him very much. He has been very strong and vocal about this in the past. You can only respect him for what he does.
"Mack stands for what he stands for. Nobody can take that away from him, nobody should."
MY SON JUST WANTS A CLEAN RACE
Mack's father Andrew Horton spoke to the Herald Sun saying he was "proud" of his son.
"As his dad I am always going to be proud of him as long as he behaves in an appropriate fashion," he told the Herald Sun.
"He feels the weight of future swimmers coming through and wants to ensure there is unilateral testing in place so these types of things don't continue on.
"He (Mack) clearly wanted to send a message, and he wanted to do it in a respectful way.
"He has remained quite silent on the matter, (he has) let his actions do the talking.
"I think whatever the result was last night, he would have taken the same action."
Andrew Horton said there was "anger and frustration" in the swimming community.
"In March 2017, Michael Phelps came out and said that at international level he'd never been in a clean race," Mr Horton said.
"What he called for was unilateral testing across all countries, that's just what needs to happen. The anger and frustration is not at a particular athlete, the anger is at this continuing to go on."
Mr Horton said the media attention wouldn't faze his son in his coming 800m heat.
"I don't think it will impact his performance at all," he said.
"I know he would be disappointed that this has gained more attention than Ariarne's 400m swim last night which was brilliant."
- By Brianna Travers