BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Australia’s Mack Horton, the men’s 400 meters Olympic freestyle champion, reignited his feud with Chinese rival Sun Yang on Friday, two days before they face each other at the start of the world championships in Budapest.
Tensions flared last summer when Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” before ending the latter’s title defense in a tightly fought 400m freestyle final.
Despite being only 21, Horton is one of Swimming Australia’s team leaders in Budapest. But his views on Sun clearly haven’t moderated nearly a year on from beating the London 2012 champion into silver in his Olympic debut.
Asked if he was looking forward to resuming battle with Sun, Horton told a news conference: “I don’t think it’s a rivalry. I think it’s a rivalry between elite athletes and athletes who have tested positive. But there should be some good racing.”
Horton was referring to Sun’s three-month suspension for using a banned stimulant, a revelation which surfaced three years ago.
It remains to be seen how Chinese social media users will view Horton’s fresh comments following the backlash meted out against the Australian last August.
Thousands of incendiary comments were left on the swimmer’s Instagram account – which numbered at least 200,000 on one photo post alone – and were subsequently deleted by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).
At the time, Chinese state media reacted to Horton’s remarks by calling Australia “uncivilized” and “Britain’s offshore prison”. The Australian delegation in Rio said they would support Horton’s right to speak freely on the issue.
Sun heads the world rankings leading into Sunday morning’s heats of the men’s 400m freestyle, with the final scheduled for the evening in the Hungarian capital.
The 25-year-old Chinese is the only swimmer to dip under three minutes 43 seconds this season, while Horton has posted the third quickest time.
At the Chinese national championships in April, Sun served warning of his form by winning all five freestyle events from 100m through to the 1500m.
Continued fractious relations at the top of the rankings have left the men’s 400m dubbed “War on the Water, Part II”.
(Reporting by Rod Gilmour; editing by Mark Heinrich)