BEIJING (AP) — Swimming officials from Australia and China have joined the fray as a feud over doping between swimmers Mack Horton and Sun Yang boils over at the Rio Olympics.
The Chinese Swimming Association asked Horton on Monday to apologize for his "inappropriate words" after he labeled Sun a "drug cheat" — a reference to Sun's three-month suspension in 2014 over banned heart medication. Australia's Olympic Committee shot back in Horton's defense hours later, saying he was speaking his mind in support of clean athletes and wished him luck.
"We have no intention of making an apology," Kitty Chiller, Australia's chef de mission at the Olympics, said in Rio.
Horton, 20, took a dig at Sun while the two attended a news conference Saturday after Horton unseated the Chinese defending champion in the 400-meter freestyle. It was the second time in days that Horton had publicly referred to Sun's drug suspension as part of what the Australian team acknowledged is a campaign to unsettle the Chinese star.
Sun had earlier been accused of splashing water at Horton in an apparent attempt to get his attention, and Horton made his initial "drug cheat" reference when asked why he had ignored Sun.
"We would urge athletes to respect their fellow competitors," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said Monday.
Sun, 24, who won two golds at the 2012 London Games, has a long history of bad behavior and tangling with others. He has been accused of disruptive pool behavior by swimmers — both men and women — from several countries. The Chinese team briefly banned him from competing after a raft of disciplinary issues, including crashing a friend's Porsche SUV into a bus in 2013 while driving without a license, landing him in jail.
Sun has previously said he did not know the medication trimetazidine, which he took for chronic heart palpitations, had been placed on the banned list when he tested positive.
The 2-meter (6-foot-6-inch) Chinese star burst into tears Sunday after losing to Horton, garnering an outpouring of support from Chinese social media users who pilloried Horton on his Facebook page. The Australian was accused of snubbing Sun's attempt to congratulate him on his win immediately after the race, although the two did briefly shake hands later at the podium.
"Mack obviously has very strong views about the need for clean sport, as every single one of us does, and he has every right to express his views and his displeasure in that sense," Chiller said.
Chinese swim team manager Xu Qi also laid into Horton, saying the Australian had "hurt the feelings between Chinese and Australian swimmers" and showed "a lack of good manners and upbringing," according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Sun, who has largely refrained from firing back at his rival and has called for respect for all athletes, appeared to get his swagger back Monday. He told reporters at an Olympic village bus stop that he is "the king" in the 1,500-meter freestyle event scheduled for Sunday, when he will again compete against Horton. When prodded, he added that he was "no friend" of Horton's.
The spiraling row has generated a shrill response from Chinese media during what has already been a period of elevated tensions after Australia voiced opposition in recent weeks to Chinese claims of maritime territory.
On Monday, Xinhua released a slew of gently critical articles on topics ranging from Australian trade policy to Melbourne's quality of life. The Global Times tabloid opted for a more blunt approach, referring to Australia in a commentary as a former British "offshore prison" that is on "the fringes of civilization."
"We don't know if it is Horton who is silly or it's the Australian media that is evil, or perhaps Australia just has a different moral standard," the newspaper said. "No one should be surprised at uncivilized acts emanating from the country."