he rivalry of the century between Chinese swimmer Sun Yang and Australian swimmer Mack Horton has been reignited once again.
On Sunday, Sun bested his arch-nemisis, Horton, in the 400m freestyle at the World Aquatics Championship in South Korea.
Afterward, Horton, who came in second, refused to shake hands, pose for photos, or share the medal podium with Sun who is currently facing the prospect of a lifetime ban after allegedly smashing a vial of his blood with a hammer during a drug test last year.
“This is going to continue to brew over the next 12 months.”
Tensions were high on the men’s 400m free podium, Australian Mack Horton refused to stand next to Chinese swimmer Sun Yang who's facing allegations of doping rule violations that could result in a #Tokyo2020 ban pic.twitter.com/9QN1VfUln7
— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) July 21, 2019
“Disrespecting me was okay, but disrespecting China was unfortunate,” Sun told reporters afterward.
On social media, Chinese internet warriors have latched onto the image of Horton standing behind the podium, mocking the swimmer for kneeling to Sun Yang.
— Guo Chen (@GerardChenMavs) July 21, 2019
Meanwhile, Horton was reportedly greeted with a “thundering ovation” when he returned back to the athletes’ village. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes a number of fellow swimmers voicing their support for him.
“It was pretty baller, honestly. We were kind of waiting around for that awards ceremony to see what was going to happen and yeah, it was awesome,” said American breaststroke world record holder Lilly King.
“When we walked into the dining hall, he walked in after us and 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.”
The rivalry between the two swimmers began during the 2016 Rio Olympics when Horton infamously labeled Sun a “drug cheat” before beating him by just 0.13 seconds in the 400m to win gold, causing Sun to weep tears of defeat.
Horton’s comments quickly caused some 1.3 billion Chinese people to turn on him along with some poor innocent British guy named Mark Horton.
The comments were in reference to the three-month suspension that Sun served in 2014 after testing positive for trimetazidine. The swimmer claimed that the stimulant had unknowingly got into his blood via a heart medication which he had been taking for years and was previously legal.
Sun is China’s most successful swimmer, winning three Olympic gold medals, two in London and one in Rio, not to mention various other accolades including now four consecutive world titles. The 27-year has cultivated the image of an emotionally vulnerable bad body, contributing to his rock star status in his own country.
A smashed blood vial
However, that status is in jeopardy at the moment over a “missed” drug test from last year.
The drug test wasn’t so much “missed” as abruptly aborted, according to a Sunday Times report from January which said that testers arrived at Sun’s home in China last September for a routine out-of-competition test, but that after drawing blood Sun disputed the accreditation of one of the nurses. A clash then ensued, ending with Sun’s mother directing his security guard to smash the vial of blood with a hammer.
Sun’s lawyer has dismissed the newspaper’s account of the events, accusing the Sunday Times of “malicious reporting” with intent to tarnish Sun’s reputation and violate his privacy. The Chinese Swimming Association has similarly stuck up for Sun, calling the report “fake news.”
Tasked with looking into the incident, FINA, the world’s swimming governing body, determined in January that it would “never know” the truth of what had happened and let Sun off with only a warning.
However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has appealed this decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which won’t hear the case until September. Sun’s team has pressed for a public trial, a result against Sun could result in him being permanently banned from the sport.