Australian swimmer Mack Horton has been criticised for refusing to stand alongside Chinese swimmer Sun Yang in a defiant protest at the world championships in South Korea.
Sun narrowly beat Olympic champion Horton to claim his fourth-straight 400m freestyle world title at Sunday’s opening night of the eight-day event.
Horton, 23, accepted his silver medal but did not stand on the podium alongside Sun as the Chinese national anthem played – nor did he pose for photographs with his rival.
Horton stood his ground throughout the awkward medal ceremony after previously being the only swimmer in the field not to shake Sun’s hand after the race.
Former Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority CEO Richard Ings said that Horton should receive a heavy penalty for the protest.
‘I am no fan of Sun Yang. But he has served his suspension for a doping violation and he has been cleared by a FINA panel of refusing to provide a sample. Innocent unless and until proven guilty. Not standing on the podium with him should attract a hefty penalty,’ Ings tweeted.
Mack Horton (left) refused to step on the podium after he was beaten by controversial Chinese star Sun Yang (centre)
Horton (pictured with his girlfriend Ella Walter) made it clear he was not happy Sun had been allowed to compete at the titles
‘Win, lose or draw you’ve got to be gracious and to not share the podium with someone who has just beaten you is a really big call,’ Channel 9 sports presenter Tony Jones added.
‘But the bloke who beat him has a pretty ordinary rapsheet… their history is pretty bleak… (but) it’s a big call.’
Sun Yang told reporters after the race that Horton’s protest had disrespected China.
‘Yes, I was aware that the Australian athlete had dissatisfaction and personal feelings towards me,’ Sun told a press conference in Gwangju on Sunday.
‘It was unfortunate because disrespecting me is okay but disrespecting China was very unfortunate and I felt sorry for that,’ he said.
The Australian made the bold statement after admitting he was unhappy that Sun had been allowed to compete at the world titles ahead of a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September that may end the Chinese star’s career.
The 10-time world champion will answer charges of smashing vials of his blood with a hammer during a clash last year with drug-testers in a tense standoff after his entourage claimed they were unaccredited.
Sun faces a lifetime ban if found guilty.
Horton copped social media abuse while the Chinese swimming team demanded an official apology after he dismissed Sun as a ‘drug cheat’ ahead of the Rio Olympics.
Their long-standing feud escalated after Horton upset Sun – who served a three month doping ban in 2014 – to claim a shock 400m freestyle gold at the 2016 Games.
Australia’s head coach, Jacco Verhaeren, said Sunday’s move even took him by surprise.
‘Nobody actually knew, that was his idea to do that. 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,’ said Verhaeren.
Horton collected his silver medal but then stood back and refused to acknowledge Sun
‘Mack stands for what he stands for. Nobody can take that away from him, nobody should. But we move on and into the next races.’
Horton collected his silver medal but then stood back and refused to acknowledge Sun who stood with bronze medallist Gabrielle Detti of Italy on the podium.
Sun was surprisingly cleared to contest the titles while waiting to appear in September at a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing.
The 10-time world champion will answer charges of smashing vials of his blood with a hammer during a clash last year with testers.
Sun was surprisingly cleared to contest the titles while waiting to appear in September at a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing
Sun celebrated wildly after the 400m win, splashing water and holding four fingers up to indicate his streak.
But Horton was clearly not impressed, taking a swipe at Sun via the media before his podium protest.
Asked how he felt after a gutsy silver-medal finish, Horton said: ‘Frustration is probably it.
‘I think you know in what respect.’
Asked to describe his rivalry with Sun, Horton said: ‘I think you know what the rivalry is like.
‘His actions and how it has been handled speak louder than anything I will ever say.’
It marks the latest round in Horton’s row with Sun whom he dismissed as a ‘drug cheat’ at the Rio Games before upsetting the three-time Olympic champion to claim 400m freestyle gold in Brazil.
Sun has been a controversial figure since serving a secret three-month doping ban in 2014.
Horton poses with bronze medallist Gabrielle Detti of Italy on the podium
Sun was again embroiled in scandal when he was accused of objecting to an out-of-competition test last September at his Zhejiang home before the vials of blood were allegedly destroyed by a hammer.
World governing body FINA opted not to punish Sun amid claims the testers had not shown adequate identification but the World Anti-Doping Agency lodged an appeal to CAS.
Yet it didn’t stop Sun contesting the world titles, prompting outrage from swimmers, with American breaststroke champion Lilly King claiming it was ‘insane’ the Chinese star had been allowed to compete.