Australian swimmer Mack Horton refused to stand next to the gold medalist Sun Yang of China while on the podium at the FINA world championships in South Korea last weekend.
Horton, 20, who earned silver in the 400m freestyle event on Sunday, was pictured standing below the podium as Sun accepted the gold and Italy’s Gabriele Detti took bronze. Sun, 27, is a two-time Olympian and has made history throughout his career, including becoming the first Chinese man to win gold in the 400m freestyle at the 2012 London Games.
But Horton has often expressed his frustration when it comes to racing against the swimmer.
Sun was suspended for three months in 2014 for taking a banned heart medication, which he later claimed he didn’t know was illegal, according to USA Today. And in September 2018, when anti-doping representatives came to test him for performance-enhancing drugs, Sun allegedly smashed the vial containing his blood with a hammer, the New York Times reported.
“I just won’t share a podium with someone that behaves in the way that he has,” Horton said of Sun after the race, according to Australia’s ABC.
“Frustration is probably it,” Horton continued about Sun winning the event. “I think you know in what respect.”
Horton also previously referred to Sun as a “drug cheat” during the 2016 Olympics, and the two have maintained a heated rivalry for years.
“You could choose not to respect me, but you must respect China,” Sun, 24, said after the race, according to Chinese state media CGTN.
Both swimmers received a warning letter from FINA on Monday.
“While FINA respects the principle of freedom of speech, it has to be conducted in the right context,” the organization said in their statement. “As in all major sports organisations, our athletes and their entourages are aware of their responsibilities to respect FINA regulations and not use FINA events to make personal statements or gestures.”
FINA added: “The matter over which Mack Horton was allegedly protesting is currently under review by CAS and therefore it is not appropriate for FINA to prejudice this hearing by commenting further.”