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Swimming Championship Gold and Silver Medallists Extend Bad Blood on podium

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Swimmer Mack Horton refuses to take the podium after being beaten by rival Sun Yang in 400 freestyle

China’s Sun Yang, centre, with his gold medal as silver medallist Australia’s Mack Horton, left, stands away from the podium.

China's Sun Yang, centre, with his gold medal as silver medallist Australia's Mack Horton, left, stands away from the podium.

Swimming Championships: Sun Yang wins 400m freestyle but bad blood with Mack Horton spills over

Sun Yang: ‘Disrespecting Me is OK, Disrespecting China was Very Unfortunate’

It is a rare moment in sport when reaction to the prize-giving ceremony completely overwhelms the sporting event itself, but such was the case at the World Swimming Championship in South Korea. It occurred when Australia’s own Mack Horton, the incumbent Olympic gold medallist in the 400m freestyle, finished second to his long-time rival Chinese swimmer Sun Yang in the same event – and then refused to shake his hand or stand on the podium with the three-time Olympic gold medallist.

Horton’s clear insinuation, though not directly stated, was that he does not shake hands with – let’s say it – drug cheats, and still less does he stand on the podium with them, at least not on the lower step when to do so would be to acknowledge that he was beaten fair and square.

Sun has accused him of disrespecting China. That’s as may be but disrespecting Sun is something Mack has insisted upon as a point of honour! Back at the Rio Olympics, after he beat Yang in the 400m, Mack the Knife also refused to shake Sun’s hand, after having called him “a drug cheat”, before the event.

For yes, despite Sun being one of the most accomplished swimmers of all time – with gold medals in Olympics and World Championships across all distances from 200m to 1500m – Sun was also banned for three months in 2014 for testing positive to a prescribed substance. In the press conference after the Rio win, Horton didn’t hold back, with Sun sitting two along from him. “I used the word ‘drug cheat’ because he tested positive,” Horton said flatly. “I just have a problem with him testing positive and still competing.”

Before these World Championships there has been an even more troubling episode involving Sun. In September last year he – wait for it – smashed a vial of his own blood due to be taken for drug testing. I said he smashed a vial of his own blood due to be taken for drug testing.

For his trouble, Sun was – wait for it, I said! – absolved of blame by FINA, the body that runs international swimming. The World Anti-Doping Agency, which leads the fight against doping in international sport, has appealed that decision with the Court of Arbitration in Sport. The hearing is in September and if successful Yang is likely to be banned for life. Many observers of international swimming believe the bleeding obvious: that with that serious charge hanging over his head Yang never should have been able to compete in South Korea.

So Horton refuses to shake the hand of that man? Who could possibly disagree?

Well, one, oddly enough is Australia’s go-to man on drug cheats, Richard Ings, the former chief executive of the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority.

“I am no fan of Sun Yang,” Ings tweeted. “But he has served his suspension for a doping violation and he has been cleared by a FINA panel of refusing to provide a sample. Innocent unless and until proven guilty. Not standing on the podium with him should attract a hefty penalty.”

I couldn’t disagree more, Richard. You insist that he shows respects for Sun. Sorry, he’s all out today. Try someone else. You can’t insist a man has respect for someone when he has none.