No matter if Sun is in Tokyo, says Horton

A staunch critic of the Chinese swim star, he is focused on making the Australian team first

SYDNEY • Swimmer Mack Horton is unconcerned whether Sun Yang escapes a ban and races at the Tokyo Games and more worried about getting through the Australian trials and booking his own spot in Japan, the Olympic champion said yesterday.

Multiple Olympic and world champion Sun's appeal against an eight-year ban for missing an out-of-competition doping test will be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) later this month.

Horton has been outspoken about Sun's doping record in the past, calling the Chinese swimmer a "drug cheat" before beating him to win the 400m freestyle gold at the Rio Olympics and refusing to take to the podium with him at the 2019 World Championships.

"I don't really follow it to be honest. I just focus on my day-to-day training, getting ready for trials," Horton said at the unveiling of Australia's swimming kit for Tokyo.

"I mean, I haven't qualified yet and there is so much focus on just trying to make the (Australian) team. There's no mental capacity for all that other peripheral stuff.

"Every international meet I've competed at, he's been there, so it doesn't really matter if he's (in Tokyo) or not. I'm used to it."

Sun, 29, the 1,500m world-record holder and who won the 200m and 400m freestyle at the 2019 World Championships, did not take part in this month's Chinese championships and Olympic qualifiers in Qingdao.

But China Swimming Association eligibility requirements for the Olympics state that all gold medallists at the 2019 world meet can participate, opening the door for him.

Horton's refusal to take the podium with winner Sun after claiming the 400m silver at the Gwangju world meet earned the Australian warning from swimming's world governing body Fina.

Were he to repeat the protest in Tokyo, as he has previously suggested he might, there is a chance he could fall foul of the International Olympic Committee's Article 50, which bans any "kind of demonstration" at Olympic venues.

Horton said he felt that Article 50, which has also been criticised by athletes who wish to signal their support for the fight against racial injustice, was outdated.

"I think people should be able to share their opinions and thoughts and stand up for what they believe in," the 25-year-old added.

"Particularly in the climate we're in at the moment, so many people are so vocal about so many issues, it's not really in touch with where the world's at."

Fellow Olympic swimming champion Adam Peaty of Britain shared the same views last month, insisting that athletes "should have a right to protest".

First and foremost in Horton's mind at the moment, however, is beating a talented younger generation of Australian 400m swimmers in Adelaide next month.

He was a distant 35th in the 200m at the Australian national championships last month and pulled out of the 400m, with rising stars Elijah Winnington and Thomas Neill as well as proven distance ace Jack McLoughlin snapping at his heels.

Horton will also skip the Sydney Open this week to focus on his training regimen in the lead-up to the crucial trials in Adelaide.

"That's a really high pressure meet," he said. "That's probably more stressful than the actual Olympics, just because there's so much depth and we have to make the team."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2021, with the headline No matter if Sun is in Tokyo, says Horton. Subscribe