Horton will get standing ovation after solar Yang snub

  • Sport
  • Swimming
By Phil Lutton

July 22, 2019 — 2.00pm

Gwangju, South Korea: Mack Horton returned to the athletes village at the world swimming championships in the late hours of Sunday night and was greeted with a thundering ovation. He had not beaten Sun Yang in the pool but his status as an anti-doping cult figure among fellow swimmers had only grown with his latest act of defiance.

About Horton
Horton may refer to:

Horton gets standing ovation after Sun Yang snub

About standing
Standing, also referred to as orthostasis, is a human position in which the body is held in an upright (“orthostatic”) position and supported only by the feet.

Although seemingly static, the body rocks slightly back and forth from the ankle in the sagittal plane. The sagittal plane bisects the body into right and left sides. The sway of quiet standing is often likened to the motion of an inverted pendulum.Standing at attention is a military standing posture, as is stand at ease, but these terms are also used in military-style organisations and in some professions which involve standing, such as modeling. At ease refers to the classic military position of standing with legs slightly apart, not in as formal or regimented a pose as standing at attention. In modeling, model at ease refers to the model standing with one leg straight, with the majority of the weight on it, and the other leg tucked over and slightly around.

Only hours earlier, the Australian had refused to stand on the podium with the towering Chinese great after Sun swam his way to a fourth successive 400m freestyle world championship gold medal. Horton finished second, taking silver in a reversal of their epic Olympic final in 2016.


Horton gets standing ovation after Sun Yang snub


What came next has been the talk of the swimming world. Sun, who is competing under a cloud here in South Korea after having smashed a vial of blood late last year to avoid it being taken for testing, and Horton are not friends at the best of times. Horton called him a ‘drug cheat’ in Rio in reference to his 2014 positive test and secretive ban.

Sun could be banned for life in September as WADA appeals a FINA doping panel ruling that absolved him of blame for smashing the vial.


When it came time for the medal ceremony, Horton received his medal then stepped back down to the floor. He would not shake Sun’s hand, nor pose for photos with him. It was a moment of high drama in an ongoing saga that has both divided and united sections of the high-profile Olympic sport.

It was pretty baller, honestly. We were waiting around for that awards ceremony to see what was going to happen and yeah, it was awesome.

US swimmer Lilly King

For American breaststroke world record holder Lilly King, one of the most outspoken swimmers on doping and the way in which it has been handled by governing body FINA, it was a moment to savour.

“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,” King said on Monday.

“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.

Australian silver medallist Mack Horton refuses to stand on  the dais with gold medallist Sun Yang.

Australian silver medallist Mack Horton refuses to stand on the dais with gold medallist Sun Yang.Credit:AP

“I don’t think anyone at FINA is going to stand up for the athletes, so the athletes have to stand up for themselves. It’s definitely a start, and if we start taking a stand against doping, then maybe they’ll listen.”

King’s US teammate, backstroke champion Ryan Murphy, was another American to stand behind Horton. He said it should be interpreted as a protest against the governance of the sport, not against Sun himself.

“It’s good for Mack. First of all, he’s a really good guy, I can attest to that. He’s got his strong beliefs and I think it’s really good that he feels comfortable to stand up for those, not necessarily standing against Sun, but more so standing against FINA and WADA for their response to these things,” Murphy said.

“I’m glad he felt comfortable to do that, so good for him. I don’t necessarily know FINA and WADA’s motives so if I knew that, then I think we could probably plan out an effective way to protest.”


Australian backstroker and medley swimmer Mitch Larkin backed his Dolphins teammate, saying he represented the vast majority of elite swimmers in becoming frustrated by the way in which FINA has handled the matter, which has now been appealed by WADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in November.

“I think 100 per cent of the Aussie athletes certainly back Mack up and I was saying before that while he was standing alone on the podium last night, he’s not standing alone in spirit,” Larkin said.

“Ninety nine per cent of the athletes here support what he does. We are all fighting for a clean sport and you have to trust that the performance that you do and the training that you do is enough to get you across the line.”

Horton and Sun will race in the heats of the 800m freestyle on Tuesday, with the stage primed for another showdown should the pair face off in Wednesday evening’s final.

Kyle Chalmers swam next to Sun in the heats of the 200m freestyle on Monday, but was keeping some distance from the controversy, preferring to focus on his racing and hopefully let that do the talking.

“It’s Mack’s decision to do that sort of stuff. At the end of the day Sun is here, Sun is racing and we just have to do what we can to swim our best races. I’m not worried about my competitors, I’m worried about my own race and learning how to swim the 200m,” Chalmers said.

Australia's Mack Horton, left, holds his silver medal with bronze medallist Italy's Gabriele Detti after refusing to stand on the podium with the gold medal winner China's Sun Yang

Australia’s Mack Horton, left, holds his silver medal with bronze medallist Italy’s Gabriele Detti after refusing to stand on the podium with the gold medal winner China’s Sun YangCredit:AP

“Mack has done a few of those things now and he strongly believes in that, and that’s totally fine.”

Horton’s father Andrew spoke to 3AW on Monday and said his protest should not be interpreted as an insult to China, as Sun had since suggested, but rather the muddling way FINA has handled an issue that should have been cleared up long before their showpiece meet of 2019.

“I think he was frustrated and disappointed, as so many of the athletes are, that this issue has tagged along into world championships,” he said.

“It’s not a commentary about China; we have huge respect for China. This is about ensuring that there are systems and processes in the sport that keep the sport clean.”

That may have been the intent but there is no doubt Chinese swimming authorities and tens of millions of swimming fans have been infuriated once more by Horton, who has predictably had his social media clogged with abuse, vile threats and the ubiquitous poo emoji, a particular favourite of the online mobs.

  • Swimming
  • 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Phil Lutton
  • Twitter
  • Email

Sports reporter