Mack Horton‘s family said they received death threats, had their home broken into and believe other forms of abuse were retaliation after the Australian swimmer labeled now-banned Chinese star Sun Yang a “drug cheat” at the Rio Olympics and made a podium protest at the 2019 World Championships, according to a report.
“My primary concern has been my family,” Horton said, according to the Australian. “To be honest, initially I wasn’t aware of a lot of what was going on as my parents tried to protect me. To see and hear the impact it has had on those I love most has been the most upsetting part.”
Horton’s family said people hurled dog feces over their fence, banged pots and pans in an alley behind the house and verbally abused them from the driveway. Plants were poisoned. Horton’s mom, Cheryl, found “a bucket load” of broken glass at the bottom of their pool, according to the report.
“We keep it on the desk in the study,” she said, according to the report, “as a reminder of how bad things got.”
The Horton-Sun feud ignited at the Rio Olympics. Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” before the 400m freestyle final. Sun had been suspended three months in 2014 for a banned stimulant, though the punishment wasn’t announced by Chinese officials until after he served the time.
Horton went on to win the event, .13 ahead of silver medalist Sun.
The rivalry resumed at the world championships last summer. Sun won the 400m free, with Horton taking silver in a repeat of the 2017 Worlds podium.
Unlike 2017, this time Horton refused to stand on the podium for the Chinese anthem and appeared not to shake Sun’s hand. He stood a step away from Sun and bronze medalist Gabriele Detti of Italy for customary post-medal ceremony photos.
“Frustration, I think you know what respect,” Horton told media in Gwangju, South Korea. “I think you know what the rivalry is like. … His actions and, I guess, how it’s been handled, speak louder than anything I’ll ever say.”
At the time, Sun was competing ahead of a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing. There were reports that he and his security guard used a hammer to smash a vial of the swimmer’s blood in a clash with drug testers in September 2018.
Horton’s father said the abuse the family was receiving on a daily basis “eased off” in February, according to the Australian.
At the end of that month, Sun was banned eight years for the drug-testers clash, a potentially career-ending sanction he reportedly planned to appeal.
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