Mack Horton applauded in athlete dining hall, warned by FINA for Sun Yang protest

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GWANGJU, South Korea (AP) — Mack Horton walked into the dining room at the athletes’ village and the applause began. It swelled into a standing ovation for the Australian swimmer after his personal protest against China’s Sun Yang at the world championships.

Horton refused to step onto the podium or shake Sun’s hand after losing to Sun in the 400-meter freestyle final on Sunday night.

“Gutsy move, for sure,” U.S. backstroker Matt Grevers said Monday.

Horton is angry that Sun, who served a three-month doping suspension in 2014, is being allowed to compete in Gwangju before he faces a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September that could potentially end his career.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is challenging a decision by FINA, swimming’s world governing body, merely to warn Sun over incidents during a doping control team’s attempts to take blood and urine samples at his home in China last September.

“I don’t feel like it really hurt Sun Yang,” Grevers said of Horton’s protest. “I think it just let him know that, ‘Hey, it’s a weird incident and until it gets uncovered, we don’t fully trust you.’”

Horton is the only swimmer to beat Sun in the 400 free in the last eight years, taking gold in the event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the Aussie also refused to shake Sun’s hand. Horton went further at a news conference later, calling Sun a “drug cheat” to his face.

That prompted China’s swimming federation to demand an apology, but none was forthcoming.

FINA said later Monday that it sent a warning letter to Horton and Swimming Australia.

“While FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context,” a press release stated. “Athletes and their entourages are aware of their responsibilities to respect FINA regulations and not use FINA events to make personal statements or gestures.”

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With such history between the two, American Lilly King said other swimmers were waiting for the awards ceremony Sunday “to see what was going to happen.”

Horton stood behind the podium when given his silver medal. He didn’t join Sun and bronze medalist Gabriele Detti of Italy for the traditional photos on the top spot afterward.

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

Sun said Sunday he was aware Horton has a problem with him.

“Disrespecting me was OK, but disrespecting China was unfortunate,” Sun said through a translator. “I feel sorry about that.”

King, an outspoken critic of doping, was in the dining hall when Horton arrived back at the village.

“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.”

Horton’s teammate, Mitch Larkin, voiced a familiar concern among swimmers about a clean playing field.

“You can never be confident,” he said. “You’ve got to trust the authorities, but with what’s going on in sport these days it’s hard to be 100% sure.”

Horton didn’t alert the Australian coaching staff of his podium plans in advance, according to head coach Jacco Verhaeren.

“I understand him very much,” the coach said. “You can only respect him for what he does.”

Detti told Italian media that Horton approached him before the medals ceremony and asked if he would be willing to stand behind rather than on the podium while receiving his award.

Detti declined, explaining that he worked hard to earn a medal and wanted to enjoy it.

None of the anti-Sun sentiment goes over well in China, where he is viewed as a star and his fans demand respect for him via social media. A large contingent of Chinese fans cheered and shouted as Sun made his victory parade around the pool. Banners featuring his face hung from the stands.

Larkin estimated that 99% percent of swimmers at the meet back Horton.

“He’s not really standing alone,” Larkin said. “What he did was certainly brave and gutsy, and I have a lot of respect for him for doing that.”

Not everyone agreed with Horton, however.

“That’s his opinion, not mine,” said British swimmer James Guy, who described himself as a close friend of Horton’s.

Guy was the leading qualifier going into the 200 free semifinals Monday night; Sun was second-fastest.

American backstroker Ryan Murphy said he didn’t consider Horton’s protest to be directed at Sun “but more so standing against FINA and WADA for their response to these things.

Men’s 400m Freestyle
Gold: Sun Yang (CHN) — 3:42.44
Silver: Mack Horton (AUS) — 3:43.17
Bronze: Gabriele Detti (ITA) — 3:43.23
4. Danas Rapsys (LTU) — 3:43.50
5. Marco De Tullio (ITA) — 3:44.86
6. Jack McLoughlin (AUS) — 3:45.19
7. Ji Xinjie (CHN) — 3:45.64
8. Zane Grothe (USA) — 3:45.78

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Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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