Mack Horton

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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Mack Horton refuses to stand on medal podium with Sun Yang

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Mack Horton called Sun Yang a “drug cheat” at the Rio Olympics. The Australian Horton let his actions, or lack of, speak at the world swimming championships on Sunday.

Horton refused to stand on the silver-medal podium step for the Chinese anthem celebrating Sun’s fourth straight world title in the 400m freestyle.

Horton and Sun did not shake hands on camera before or after the medals were awarded. Horton stood a step away from Sun and Italian bronze medalist Gabriele Detti for post-ceremony photos.

“Frustration, I think you know what respect,” the Rio Olympic champion 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.”

Sun grabbed his 10th world title overall in 3:42.44, relegating Horton to silver by .73.

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

Sun is again swimming under suspicion this week. He faces a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing in September over 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 last September.

FINA gave Sun a warning after the incident. The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed in March to CAS, seeking a stricter punishment, but some swimmers, including outspoken American Lilly King, were dismayed to see the hearing set for after worlds.

Sun was also suspended three months in 2014 for a banned stimulant, though the punishment wasn’t announced by Chinese officials until after he served the time. That led to Horton’s comments at the Rio Olympics.

“I am aware that I have fans and also the haters in the venue, but I was just very satisfied to win,” Sun said, according to the AP. “I am aware of the rumors that have been going around, but I try to just concentrate on my swimming.”

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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

NBC Olympics researcher Megan Soisson contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in 400m freestyle to open swim worlds

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Katie Ledecky suffered her first loss in a major international 400m freestyle, getting run down by Australian 18-year-old Ariarne Titmus in the last 50 meters to open the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea on Sunday.

Titmus overcame a .62 of a second deficit going into the last 50 and won by 1.21 seconds over Ledecky in 3:58.76. Ledecky held off countrywoman Leah Smith by 1.32 seconds for the silver.

“I just got to the last turn and felt like I just tightened up,” said Ledecky, who lost a major international final for the third time (the other two were in the 200m free). “My legs were just dead. Obviously, Ariarne took advantage of that.

“This stings a little, unfamiliar and different.”

Ledecky, known for her endurance, had the second-slowest last 50 meters of the eight-woman field. Titmus went 1.83 seconds faster over the last length of the pool.

“I knew that I properly had that in me,” said Titmus, whose coach is known to utter Ledecky’s name as motivation in practices. “She’s the greatest ever.”

Ledecky had won the last six major international 400m frees among the world championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Olympics dating to 2013. But she swam her slowest time of her seven major finals on Sunday and her 18th-fastest 400m free overall.

“My physical preparation has been great for this meet, really expected to be a lot faster than that,” said Ledecky, who said last week she was feeling better in the pool than in a long time, perhaps since Rio. “I knew it was going to be a tough race going in. I was nervous for it.”

This makes Titmus, nicknamed “Terminator,” the favorite in Wednesday’s 200m freestyle, too, given she has been faster than Ledecky in that event this year. Titmus emerged as a rival in 2018, outsplitting Ledecky in the last half of the Pan Pacific Championships 400m free and giving the American her closest-ever major win in the event (still by a comfortable 1.16 seconds).

Ledecky is just getting started. She’s slated for five events in Gwangju, South Korea, continuing with the 1500m freestyle heats on Monday. She is also expected to swim the 200m and 800m frees and the 4x200m free.

“I need to rebound from this, and I need to get my fight back,” she said.

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Also Sunday, Caeleb Dressel led off a U.S. 4x100m freestyle that earned gold in 3:09.06, a world championships record. Dressel, who earned a Michael Phelps record-tying seven golds in 2017, was joined on the relay by Blake PieroniZach Apple and eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian, who announced in January that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I’m very grateful to be here racing,” Adrian said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “It beats the heck out of being home, waiting for test results, waiting for another surgery.”

Australia won the women’s 4x100m free, anchored by Cate Campbell, who had the fastest split, in 3:30.21. The U.S., anchored by Simone Manuel, broke the American record for silver in 3:31.02.

China’s Sun Yang earned his fourth straight 400m free world title amid a doping controversy that has American Lilly King criticizing.

Sun grabbed his 10th world title overall in 3:42.44, relegating Rio Olympic champ Mack Horton of Australia to silver by .73. Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” in Rio for Sun was banned three months in 2014.

Horton stood behind the medal podium rather than on it for the Chinese anthem. Horton and Sun did not shake hands at their medal ceremony, and Horton stood a step away from Sun and bronze medalist Gabriele Detti for post-ceremony photos.

“[Sun’s] actions — and how it’s been handled — speak louder than anything I’ll ever say,” Horton said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Adam Peaty became the first man to break 57 seconds in the 100m breaststroke semifinals, lowering his world record for the fifth time to 56.88. The next-fastest man in history’s best time is 58.29.

Swimming worlds continue Monday morning ET with finals in the men’s 50m butterfly (Dressel) and 100m breaststroke (Peaty) and women’s 100m butterfly (Sarah Sjöström) and 200m individual medley (Katinka Hosszu).

NBC Olympics researcher Megan Soisson contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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