War in the water, part II: Sun Yang and Rio conqueror Mack Horton set to clash once more at World Championships
Chinese team captain has fastest time of the year as he seeks revenge over Australian, who called him a drug cheat and then took his Olympic crown
Controversial Chinese swimmer Sun Yang and outspoken Aussie rival Mack Horton will lock horns for the first since their Olympic spat in Rio last year at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest next week.
The pair traded insults in Rio last August, with Horton calling Sun a drug cheat and the Chinese superstar responding that the Australian was using dirty tricks to try to put him off his game.
It worked as Sun’s aura was burst, losing the gold medal by a split second to Horton in the 400 metres freestyle final. The bad blood continued to flow afterwards and Sun broke down in tears.
“I used the word[s] drug cheat because he was tested positive,” Horton said before the race, and repeated the accusation with the gold medal around his neck.
“I just have a problem with him testing positive and still competing.”
The accusations centred on a three-month doping ban Sun served secretly in 2014, for taking a banned stimulant that he said was for a heart complaint.
China and Australia also became embroiled in the spat, with mainland state-run media blasting Horton’s homeland as a former “offshore prison”, while Aussie media backed Horton as “our clean machine”.
Multi-Olympic gold medallist Sun has been named as captain of the China team which features 18 men and 26 women headed by Fu Yuanhui, who became an overnight internet celebrity with her reaction of astonishment to winning a bronze medal in Rio.
The adorably awkward Fu then won more hearts and minds in the mainland by saying she wanted a boyfriend but could not find the right match.
Horton, from Melbourne, is also due to represent Australia in the 400m and 1,500m freestyle in Budapest. The men’s 400m will be one of opening events in swimming on July 23.
Sun has swum the fastest 400m this year with an outstanding 3:42.16 in Qingdao in April, which served as the trials for these championships.
Horton’s best time of the year is 3:44.18, and ranks third behind Italian Gabriele Detti’s 3:43.36. Park Tae-hwan of South Korea is fourth with 3:44.38.
In the women’s 50m backstroke, Fu and teammates Wang Xueer and Liu Xiang look set to dominate the event after occupying the top three positions in the world rankings.
Hong Kong will be represented by a seven-member squad in Budapest, headed by US-based Siobhan Haughey and also featuring Chan Kin-lok, Claudia Lau Yin-yan, Sze Hang-yu, Ho Nam-wai, Toto Wong Kwan-to and Kent Cheung Kin-tat.