As athletes from around the world gather at the Rio Olympics to show off their skills and sportsmanship, the drama between Chinese and Australian swimmers, Sun Yang and Mack Horton, has grabbed the attention of spectators.
The two contestants competed in the 400-meter freestyle event, where Sun is the defending champion from the London Olympics. In a surprising turn of events, Horton beat Sun by 0.13 seconds. However, the bitterness between the two started before the race when Sun allegedly splashed Horton in the warm-up pool, then Horton called Sun a “drug cheat.”
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Sun was splashing water at Horton and trying to distract him during his training session. But both Sun and Xu Qi, the swim team manager, have denied these allegations and stated that it must have been a misunderstanding.
Later, Horton talked about the situation and explained why he didn’t do anything about Sun’s splashing at the time. “I didn’t respond because I don’t have time for drug cheats,” he said. At a press conference later, a Chinese reporter asked why he referred to Sun as a drug cheat. “I used the words ‘drug cheat’ because he tested positive. I just have a problem with athletes who have tested positive and are still competing,” Horton explained.
This isn’t the first time Sun has had a run in with Australians regarding doping. Earlier in 2014, he tested positive for Trimetazidine, which could optimize cellular energy and helps maintain one’s metabolism when a particular organ lacks blood flow. This drug was and still is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited list. Sun claimed that he was taking a prescription of Vasorel for heart palpitations and was unaware that the drug contained Trimetazidine. For the offense, the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency gave him a 3 month ban while WADA advocates for a 2-year minimum ban for first time offenders. Regarding this incident, Michael Scott, Director of High Performance at Swimming Australia, banned Sun, who was training in Australia, from local pools.
After winning first place in the event, Horton emerged from the pool and was asked about “the rivalry” between him and Sun Yang. He certainly did not hold back and doubled down on his previous statements, “Yeah it was definitely a win for the good guys. I don’t know if it’s a rivalry between me and him, but just me and athletes who have tested positive I guess.”
Sun responded to the jab, by stating, “I am clean and I’ve done whatever it takes to prove I’m a clean athlete.”
The Chinese swim team manager has demanded Horton apologize for his “malicious personal attack” on Sun, People’s Daily reports. Meanwhile, Mark Anderson, the Chief Executive for Australia’s swim team, has spoken out in support of Horton:
“We do support our athletes and trust them that when they say things, they say them with respect and openness and transparency. Mack made that statement and we absolutely back it. We’re not focusing on that as a topic but clearly it is something that meant a lot to Mack. He came out, made a strong statement and we support that.”
It seems like the series of events was too much for Sun, who broke down into tears during an interview. The hashtag in support of the Chinese athlete, #Don’t Cry Sun Yang#, has gone viral on Weibo with 83 million views.
But netizens went even further than that. Even with the existence of the Great Firewall, it may not be a good idea to anger Chinese fans. Since Horton made those comments, his social media accounts have been spammed by angry Chinese netizens, calling him a “snake,” “loser” or “disrespectful person.” The hashtag #apologizetosunyang has more than 11,000 posts already on Instagram. Furthermore, Andrew Brown from Fairfax Media reported that there have been more than 200,000 hate comments on his page. Though Horton has turned off comments on his account already, he is still within the reach of Chinese netizens.
A victory photo he posted on Facebook has garnered almost 2,000 angry-faced emoticons and lots of scornful comments.
“He is a loser, please he early as early as super living death,” 向南 wrote.
“Provoke others who go will never be they respect,” Chinh Duong wrote.
“You won the game, but no one will respect you,” Badbigbang wrote.
Others brought up his fellow Aussie teammates’ misuse of prescription drugs, especially Stilnox, back in 2012.
“Did you forget about the London Olympics four years ago? Collective doping?” 李金泽 wrote.
7News Australia decided to conduct a poll, “Should Mack Horton apologise for calling Sun Yang a ‘drug cheat’?” An hour after it was posted, results were favored to the “no” side with a 69% majority. But as soon as Chinese netizens got wind of the poll, the results flipped and now shows 74% for “yes.”
The top comment from WeiMiao Guo Grosser reads:
“Sun Yang is clean and passed the drug test, he deserves respect just as much as any other athlete competing in that pool. Nobody is talking about the 2012 Australia men’s swimming team’s drug violation, but it seems people here have really short memory and think Australian swimmers have always been clean! Apologize and move on!”
As well as insults, netizens have made Horton into a meme and edited a picture of him biting his gold medal.
Chinese netizens weren’t the only ones calling Horton out. The nationalistic tabloid the Global Times has not only criticized Horton, but the entirety of Australia. Horton is characterized in the editorial as a hypocrite for taking the moral high ground while alleging that Sun is a cheat and someone who “doesn’t have the spirit of an Olympian.” The editorial also lambasted the Australian media for praising Horton’s statement. It finally concludes by saying: “Westerners stated that Australia is on the edge of civilized society and that it was once England’s prison. This means that their uncultured acts aren’t surprising. We can’t say we disagree with such thoughts.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the Global Times has attacked Australia.
The competition between the two is far from over. On August 12th, Sun and Horton will compete again in the 1500-meter freestyle race. May the best man win.
By Sarah Lin
[Images via Facebook / CCTV]