Australian's Mack Horton refuses to share medal podium with Chinese swimmer he's called a 'drug cheat'

Jack Baer
Yahoo Sports

Australian swimmer Mack Horton took a stand at the 2019 FINA World Championships by, well, not taking a stand.

After winning a silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle event in Gwangju, South Korea on Sunday, Horton refused to step up to the podium and take a picture with the gold medalist, China’s Sun Yang.

Horton was protesting Yang being allowed to swim in the event despite a pending hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport that could potentially end the Chinese swimmer’s career. The 23-year-old has a history of criticizing Yang, who was suspended for three months in 2014 after testing positive for a banned stimulant called trimetazidine.

Following Horton’s protest, FINA announced that it would send a written warning to Horton and his country’s swimming governing body.

“While FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context,” the statement said.

The target of Horton’s protest told reporters that he didn’t mind the personal shot, but said he believed the gesture also disrespected China, according to the Associated Press.

"Disrespecting me was OK, but disrespecting China was unfortunate," Sun said.”I feel sorry about that."

As for the man himself, he decided to let the protest speak for itself.

“I don’t think I need to say anything,” Horton reportedly said. “His actions and how it has been handled speaks louder than anything I could say.”

Why Mack Horton protested Sun Yang’s win

China's Sun Yang, centre, holds up his gold medal as silver medalist Australia's Mack Horton, left, stands away from the podium with bronze medalist Italy's Gabriele Detti right, after the men's 400m freestyle final at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Sunday, July 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Those actions on Sun’s part are primarily a reference to a bizarre incident last year that reportedly occurred at the six-time Olympic medalist’s home when drug testers arrived at his home to take a blood and urine sample.

Once the testers arrived, Sun reportedly made them wait outside for an hour before allowing them in to take the samples, then refused to give a urine sample and questioned the credentials of the tester.. His mother also reportedly ordered security guards to destroy a blood sample that had been taken with a hammer.

Sun defended his actions by claiming that he feared the testers were “secretly taking pictures and videos of him.” FINA accepted the defense, prompting the World Anti-Doping Agency to request a hearing over the matter.

If WADA prevails, the 27-year-old Sun’s career is over.

Horton has a history with Sun as well, and not just because he’s arguably Sun’s biggest rival in the pool.

In the aftermath of Sun’s first violation, Horton refused to shake Sun’s hand during an event at the 2016 Olympics, where the Australian prevailed in the 400 freestyle. Horton also called Sun a “drug cheat” during news conferences before and after the race. That prompted outrage from Sun’s many fans China’s swimming federation, which demanded an apology.

They did not receive one.

Lilly King among several swimmers to applaud Horton

Horton’s gesture has apparently made him a popular man in the FINA athletes’ village, which reportedly broke into applause when he entered the dining hall.

Americans Matt Grevers, Lilly King and Ryan Murphy, as well as Australia’s Mitch Larkin were quoted in support of Horton.

King, who gained fame in Rio for her public takedown of known doper Yulia Efimova, was quite critical of FINa allowing Sun to compete.

“It was pretty great to see the athletes united on his stance and supporting him as well,” she said. “I don’t think anyone at FINA is going to stand up for the athletes, so the athletes have to stand up for themselves.”

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