Australian swimmer and Olympic champion Mack Horton says he would consider sitting down and talking to China’s Sun Yang – the man he refused to stand on a podium with at the 2019 world championships.
- Horton caused controversy at the 2019 world titles when he refused to stand on the podium with Sun Yang
- Horton could still face his long-time rival in Tokyo if the Chinese star wins a retrial at the Court of Arbitration for Sport
- Sun’s retrial relating to a stand-off with doping control officers in 2018 over blood and urine sample tests starts on May 24
“It’s not a bad idea, maybe one day,” he said.
Speaking to The Ticket at the unveiling of the swimsuits to be worn in Tokyo by Australian swimmers, divers, surfers, water polo players and modern pentathletes, Horton said he had not yet thought about who he would be competing against, since he still has to qualify for the team.
The rivalry between Sun and Horton extends far beyond the pool.
Sun served a secret three-month ban in 2014 for testing positive to a stimulant, which he had been prescribed for a heart condition.
The stimulant was later removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list.
“I just have a problem with him testing positive and still competing,” he said at the time.
Three years later, the results were flipped when Sun won the world championship race ahead of Horton, who chose not to step onto the medal dais at the presentation ceremony citing “frustration”.
At the time Sun was awaiting a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing after a stand-off with doping control officers who had collected blood and urine samples with incomplete paperwork.
When the doping control party tried to leave with their sealed container, Sun’s party – including the China team doctor — refused to let his samples be taken away until the paperwork was corrected.
A security guard broke open the container, with Sun claiming he was following intructions from the testing agents to allow each party to retain their own property.
Horton’s podium protest created global headlines, viral photos and a sustained social media attack that included death threats.
The CAS hearing in November 2019 found Sun guilty, handing him an eight-year ban but the hearing was appealed at the Swiss Federal Tribunal.
It ordered a retrial on the grounds the lead arbitrator, former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, had expressed an anti-China bias in his social media posts.
If Sun wins he will be free to compete in Tokyo and may line up against Horton again with the potential for another protest.
“There are so many hypotheticals you have to get through before we’re there.
“It’s a cheesy and cliched athlete thing to say, but the biggest competitor is yourself, which is true.
“All of my focus is on basically beating myself and being in the best shape and I guess cutting out all that peripheral … to make it easier on myself as well.”
Horton will always be recognised for his podium protest, a gesture that brought unexpected pressure and enormous geo-political weight.
“I don’t think I intentionally took on the weight, I was just being me, and I will continue to just be me regardless of weight or no weight,” he said.
“But I think as long as you are just being the best version of yourself, the best swimmer you can be, the best athlete you can be, that weight probably isn’t taken on because I’m not trying to be something or do something that isn’t natural.
“It’s just who I am.”
Horton warns Olympics have to move with times
The International Olympic Committee has confirmed that protests on the podium remain banned after collating results of a global survey sent to Olympic athletes spanning decades.
Horton said the Olympic movement is in danger of looking out of touch.
“With the way the world is and the way the world is going at the moment — so many people are so vocal and have so many opinions on so many issues — it seems a bit out of touch … to ban opinions and silence athletes,” he said.
Would that mean no flags and no anthems, instead a true celebration of the “youth of the world” that is claimed at every opening ceremony?
“It’s extreme, but yeah,” he said.
Horton said he has no interest in moving into sports administration once his competitive days are over.
“Of course, I’d like to be there to mentor younger athletes and help them through, but I think probably because I just spent so much time and so much energy in this world, once I’m done with that world, I want to be done.
“But it could change when you actually step away from that.”
Horton’s sole focus right now is in qualifying for Tokyo at next month’s Australian swimming trials in South Australia.
His main rival hopes to be in Tokyo too, but Sun’s next test is winning his trial at the CAS, starting on May 24th.