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Mack Horton lauded by fellow swimmers after protesting Sun Yang’s win

by ZwemZa on July 22nd, 2019

Silver medalist Mack Horton of Australia, left, refuses to join gold medalist Sun Yang (NZHerald)

Australia’s Mack Horton received a standing ovation at the athletes’ village after protesting against controversial Chinese star Sun Yang’s 400m freestyle win at the world swimming titles. American breaststroke champion Lilly King revealed Horton was greeted with applause from fellow competitors when he returned from the pool after refusing to acknowledge Sun on Sunday night.

Olympic champion Horton did not shake hands with his bitter rival after being relegated to 400m silver by Sun and refused to join him on the podium on the titles’ opening night at Gwangju, South Korea. The controversy almost overshadowed a golden first night for Australia with Ariarne Titmus upsetting American great Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle and the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team triumphing.

Horton was unhappy that Sun, who served a 2014 doping ban, had been allowed to compete ahead of a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September that may end the Chinese star’s career. The 10-time world champion has been accused of smashing vials of his blood with a hammer during a clash last year with testers and faces a lifetime ban if found guilty.

“We were kind of waiting around for that awards ceremony to see what was going to happen and yeah it was awesome,” two-time Olympic gold medallist King said. “When we walked into the dining hall, he walked in after us and like the whole dining hall erupted in applause so it was pretty great to see the athletes united on his stance and supporting him as well. I don’t think anyone at FINA’s going to stand up for the athletes so the athletes have to stand up for themselves.”

Australian officials spoke with world body FINA on Sunday night and were assured Horton did not face any sanction over his protest. But Sun, who claimed a fourth straight 400m world title, said Horton’s stance was disrespectful to China. “It was unfortunate because disrespecting me is OK but disrespecting China was very unfortunate and I felt sorry about that,” he said.

The Australian team’s reaction to Horton’s protest will no doubt further infuriate Sun with the Dolphins throwing their support behind the 23-year-old. “That was his idea to do that. But let’s put it this way, I understand him very much,” Dolphins head coach Jacco Verhaeren said of the protest. “He has been very strong and vocal about this in the past … you can only respect him for what he does.”

Teammate Mitch Larkin said “99 per cent” of athletes at Gwangju backed Horton’s Sun snub. “I think 100% of the Aussie athletes certainly back Mack up. While he was standing alone on the podium last night he’s not standing alone in spirit,” he said. “I would say 99% of the athletes here support what he does. We are all fighting for a clean sport.”

The controversy has added another chapter to Horton’s bitter rivalry with Sun. It began when Horton dismissed Sun as a “drug cheat” at the Rio Olympics, prompting the Chinese swimming team to demand an official apology. Their feud escalated after Horton upset Sun to claim a shock 400m freestyle gold at the 2016 Games.

Meanwhile, Titmus became the first Australian woman to claim the world 400m title since Tracey Wickham in 1978 after pulling off an upset victory that snapped Ledecky’s staggering winning streak.

Titmus clocked a Commonwealth record three minutes, 58.76 seconds on the opening night of the eight-day world titles in Gwangju, South Korea, on Sunday to upstage the once untouchable Ledecky.

The American had not been beaten in 400m, 800m or 1500m freestyle at a major international meet since 2012 until the 18-year-old pulled off one of the great upsets. Yet Titmus’ hard marking coach Dean Boxall still found fault with the landmark swim.

“I think she could have executed it a little bit better. It was a good swim, of course … but it could have been better,” he said. “I thought she nearly missed an opportunity there.”

Still, Titmus was confident she had done enough for Ledecky to take her seriously as a threat ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Ledecky had refused to speak specifically about Titmus ahead of the titles despite the world No 2 ranked teenager’s impressive form, stonewalling reporters by claiming “everyone was a threat”.

Titmus reckoned that may now have changed. “Now hopefully she is excited that she now has a battle with me,” Titmus said. However, Boxall warned Titmus’ win may come at a price. He believed a “pissed off” Ledecky would now be out for vengeance in her other two events in South Korea against Titmus – the 200m and 800m freestyle.

AAP

One Comment
  1. Sir to you permalink

    Just as well Australians never cheat.

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