The Chinese Olympic swim team issued a statement on Sunday demanding Australian swimmer Mack Horton apologise for comments about his Chinese competitor Sun Yang previously testing positive for drugs.

“We have been noticing what has been said in the past two days by Horton, who launched a malicious personal attack [on Chinese swimmers],” the Chinese swim team’s leader Xu Qi told state media Xinhua news agency.

“We think his inappropriate words greatly hurt the feelings between Chinese and Australian swimmers. It is proof of a lack of good manners and upbringing. We strongly demand an apology from this swimmer,” added Xu.

The incident came after Horton won a gold medal by beating Sun in the 400 metre freestyle race by a margin of 0.13 seconds last Saturday.

Prior to the race, Horton said he had no “time or respect for drug cheats,” alluding to an incident in 2014 when Sun tested positive for the stimulant trimetazidine and was consequently banned from competing for three months by the Chinese Swimming Association.

Sun said that the trimetazidine was a doctor’s prescription to treat heart palpitations. The stimulant was banned by World Anti-Doping Agency in early 2014 and has remained banned.

“I don’t know if it’s a rivalry between me and him, just a rivalry between me and athletes who have tested positive,” said Horton when asked about the tension between him and Sun after the Saturday race.

“I could have won the gold medal according to the results from training… I am sorry to my father, mother and uncle who were in the stand watching me, [I] have disappointed them,” said Sun when speaking to media after the race.

‘Apologise to Sun Yang’

Since then, Chinese netizens have taken their dissatisfaction towards Horton’s comments to social media by leaving criticism on Horton’s Instagram account and creating the hashtag #apologizetosunyang. In addition, a page called “Horton apologise to Sun Yang” became a trend on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.

Sun Yang was seen crying while giving an interview after losing the 400 metre freestyle race. The video has further prompted the creation of the hashtag #Sun Yang Don’t Cry on Weibo.

Horton’s Instagram account stopped allowing users to post comments on Monday.

In an effort to satirise the backlash from mainland, Australia-based Chinese artist Badiucao has in turn created a parody image of Horton apologising on Skype with a caption saying that he is “sorry to have hurt the glass hearts” of the Chinese people.

In response to the criticism from China, organisations such as Australian Olympic Committee and Swimming Australia have released statements in defence of Horton.

“He has spoken out in support of clean athletes. This is something he feels strongly about and good luck to him,” said the Australian Olympic Committee.

“We do support our athletes and trust them that when they say things, they say them with respect and openness and transparency. Mack made that statement and we absolutely back it,” Mark Anderson, chief executive of Swimming Australia, told Fairfax Media.

olympic swimmer sun horton
(Left) Mack Horton and (right) Sun Yang. Photo: YouTube Screenshot.

Horton and Sun are due to compete again in the 1,500 metre race on August 13.

Gene Lin is a Journalism and Computer Science student at The University of Hong Kong. He worked as a reporter for the 'LIVE: Verified Updates' during the Occupy Central protests. He is also an editor at HKU's first English-language student paper, The Lion Post.