Mack Horton refuses to share the podium with Sun Yang.
Mack Horton refuses to share the podium with Sun Yang. Getty Images

Mack Horton breaks silence on Sun Yang protests

REFUTING suggestions he's been made to look like a hypocrite after Shayna Jack's positive test was hidden from the Australian public, Mack Horton has broken his silence about exactly why he decided to protest Sun Yang's participation at the world swimming championships.

And it's not because of any personal vendetta with his bitter Chinese rival - Horton's real beef is with the officials running the sport and their inconsistent approach to tackling doping.

In a sit-down interview with 7's Sunday Night program, Horton revealed that he felt so let down by the blazers running the sport that he would have gone ahead with his protest even if had been told one of his own teammates had tested positive to a banned muscle building drug.

"Nothing changes," Horton declared.

"We are not hypocrites, as long as we are enforcing what we are standing for, and I think Australia is definitely standing for clean sport."

While Swimming Australia has been trying to wash its hands of responsibility, insisting it was following confidentiality rules, serious questions are being asked about Australia's credibility to point the finger at other countries.

However Horton said there was a fundamental difference between Jack and Sun's cases which shouldn't be lost in the public outrage at SA's public relations own-goal because it entitled Australia to claim the moral high ground on doping issues.

Mack Horton refuses to climb the podium after finishing second to China’s Sun Yang in South Korea. Picture: AP
Mack Horton refuses to climb the podium after finishing second to China’s Sun Yang in South Korea. Picture: AP

"I think you know the difference," he told Sunday Night.

"As soon as she returns a positive sample she's returned to Australia, she's not competing at a world championships.

"And that gives me faith in the Australian system in that Australians demand clean sport and we won't let our own athletes get away with it.

"And because we won't let our own athletes get away with it, we can question and demand more from the rest of the world."

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Facing an appeal from the World Anti-Doping Agency after The Daily Telegraph exclusively revealed why he was let off after smashing his own blood samples with a hammer at a random drug test last year, Sun's participation at the world championships was a powder keg ready to explode. Horton just lit the fuse.

"Athletes are frustrated with doping in sport, they're frustrated with the system letting them down, and that athletes who are under investigation should not be competing at a world championships," he said.

"I wouldn't do what he did. I don't think many athletes would do what he did.

"What is most frustrating about that is that the system allows for people to sneak through on technicalities.

"This isn't a China-Australia thing, this isn't a China versus the world thing, this is a principle and how the way the sport is governed and controlled."


Mack Horton on Sunday Night.
Mack Horton on Sunday Night.

Horton decided to make a statement that the world would hear after he finished second behind Sun in the 400m freestyle final, but he admitted it was tough to go through with.

He said he had been toying with the idea for days in advance but when the moment of truth came, he had some second thoughts. As the three medallists from the 400m final walked towards the podium for the formal presentation, Horton asked the third place getter, Italian distance swimmer Gabrielle Detti, to join him in protest.

"He said 'no, no, I don't want to do that', which is fair enough, I respect that," Horton said.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to do it but I did it at the last minute because I didn't want to live with the regret thinking back maybe I should have done that at that moment.

"I wavered, I wasn't sure. Standing there, it was tense, it was awkward. No-one really knew what to do and then all of a sudden the crowd realised what was going on and started applauding, and I guess filled me with emotion and I was like 'OK, this was the right thing to do.'"

Horton says there are differences between the Shayna Jack and Sun Yang cases. Picture: Getty Images
Horton says there are differences between the Shayna Jack and Sun Yang cases. Picture: Getty Images

Horton's protest immediately sent shockwaves around the sporting world. When he returned to the athlete's village in South Korea, his fellow swimmers all stood and applauded him and thousands of Australians sent him messages of support.

But not everyone was impressed. Swimming's world governing body FINA issued him with a formal warning and Horton was subjected to death threats by Sun's most fanatical fans.

Even Australians took issue with him, accusing the Victorian of being a sore loser, so it wasn't until two nights later, when Scotland's Duncan Scott staged a second protest when he finished third to Sun in the 200m final, that Horton finally felt at ease with the firestorm he had created.

"It was a bit of a relief," Horton said. "It was kind of like 'hey, other people are thinking the same way that you're thinking, other people believe in what you're doing, it was just a kind of pat on the back of support."

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