The pair have a long, bitter rivalry.
Before the 400m freestyle race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Horton said his rival was a “drug cheat
After the race, Horton described his win as “one for the good guys.” Sun broke down in tears
surrounded by Chinese media after his defeat, while the Chinese swim team manager Xu Qi demanded an apology
Australia’s chef de mission Kitty Chiller said Horton had every right to express his views — and the team had no intention of making an apology.
2016 comments went viral in China, where many believed he had deliberately tried to psych out Sun. Horton’s Instagram page was bombarded with derogatory messages, and an op-ed
published by the nationalistic tabloid Global Times described Australia as a country “at the fringes of civilization” and referred to its history as “Britain’s offshore prison.”
Taking a stand or disrespecting China?
Once again, Horton’s Instagram posts have become the target of pro-China users, who left comments
such as “You don’t deserve to shake Sun’s hand” and “You will lose forever.”
The issue was also one of the top trending topics on Chinese microblogging site Weibo on Monday — although Chinese media did not mention the drugs context, and used a picture that made it appear that Horton was kneeling at Sun’s side.
“Horton is a man with a small heart,” wrote one person on Weibo. “Being this dramatic because of his bad performance — Sun Yang should stay away from this kind of toxic rubbish,” said another.
The response was very different in Australia, where fellow swimmers praised Horton’s stance.
In an Instagram story, Australian Olympic medal-winning swimmer Cat Campbell called Horton a “legend.” “Taking a stand for clean sport,” she captioned
a photo of Horton standing to the side of the podium. “Mack Horton, we salute you.”
David McKeon, another Australian Olympian, tweeted
: “Absolutely awesome to see Mack Horton protesting clean sport by not getting up on the podium next to Sun Yang.”
CNN has contacted the sport’s national governing body, Swimming Australia, and international federation, FINA, for comment but has not yet received a response.
Sun is not the first Chinese swimmer to be accused of doping. In 2012, then 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen won gold at the Olympics and set a new world record, prompting allegations of doping
. International Olympics Committee spokesman Mark Adams called doping allegations against Ye “sad” and “pure rumor.”
At the time, the head of China’s swimming team, Xu Qi, noted that similar allegations hadn’t dogged other top swimmers in recent years.
“Ian Thorpe was called a genius, Michael Phelps got eight gold medals in Beijing. Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin are both recognized as geniuses. There were geniuses in France and South Africa. We admit and accept these geniuses, but why can’t a genius come from China, a country with a large population?”
CNN’s Nanlin Fang contributed to this report.