Australian swimmer Mack Horton has broken his silence for the first time since China's Sun Yang was handed an eight-year ban for a dope test violation.
Arriving at an Adelaide swimming pool for training pre-dawn on Saturday, a weary Mack Horton, 23, was not celebrating after his triple Olympic gold medal rival was out of competition for the next two Olympic Games.
Instead, he told the Seven Network he was "just a guy still chasing the dream" as he walked across a carpark to continue training with the South Australian Sports Institute for the national training camp to prepare for Tokyo.
Business as usual.
"I think regardless of the outcome it was always going to be a statement to the world and my stance has always been about clean sport never about nations or individuals," Horton said.
“It goes on… I’m just a guy still chasing the dream… we’ve got a job to do this morning and we’ll just keep going.”
Horton refuses to share the podium with Sun Yang last year. Photo: AAP
Horton, who called Sun Yang a "drug cheat" at the Rio games and famously refused to stand on the podium with the gold medal-winner in Gwangju last year, said his focus has always been about "clean sport".
Sun had won that race while competing under the shadow of an appeal for smashing vials containing blood samples taken at an out-of-competition test in September 2018.
Backlash by Chinese fans
As news broke of Sun Yang's ban, effectively ending his swimming career, tens of thousands of Chinese flooded social media in support of Sun Yang following the verdict, stating it was "cruel" and "unjust".
Some were personal and specifically directed to Horton and his family, as news.com.au reported Horton also received death threats written in both Chinese and English on his Twitter and Instagram.
"Foreigners are jealous. It is really unfair to treat Sun Yang in this way. Since when did competitive sports become villain sports," said one user called 'Lingering memories' on microblogging website Weibo Corp.
Another wrote: "Mack Horton jumped out first to insult Sun Yang. It's really impolite. Does he think he is a god who knows all the truth?💀💀
Sun Yang has vowed to appeal the ban from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who said the eight-years was imposed because the reigning world and Olympic 200m freestyle champion already had an earlier anti-doping rule violation against him from 2014.
"This is unfair. I firmly believe in my innocence," Sun told Xinhua.
"I will definitely appeal to let more people know the truth."
The case has attracted huge interest in China, where Sun is currently training at the Zhejiang College of Sports in Hangzhou, and the swimming world.
A FINA report said Sun questioned the credentials of the testers before members of his entourage smashed the vials with a hammer.
Sun had argued during the CAS hearing, which was heard in public, that the testers failed to prove their identity and behaved in an unprofessional manner.
"The CAS Panel unanimously determined, to its comfortable satisfaction, that the athlete violated Article 2.5 FINA DC (Tampering with any part of Doping Control)," the CAS statement said.
"In particular, the Panel found that the personnel in charge of the doping control complied with all applicable requirements as set out in the ISTI (International Standard for Testing and Investigation).
"More specifically, the athlete failed to establish that he had a compelling justification to destroy his sample collection containers and forego the doping control when, in his opinion, the collection protocol was not in compliance with the ISTI."
The statement added that it was "one thing, having provided a blood sample, to question the accreditation of the testing personnel while keeping the intact samples in the possession of the testing authorities.
"It is quite another thing, after lengthy exchanges and warnings as to the consequences, to act in such a way that results in destroying the sample containers, thereby eliminating any chance of testing the sample at a later stage."
WADA welcomed the ruling as "a significant result" in a separate statement and said it was "satisfied that justice in this case has been rendered."