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Swimmer Sun Yang’s Fall From Grace Complete After Online Backlash in China

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Chinese swimming icon Sun Yang was hit with an eight-year ban last week for refusing to cooperate with an out-of-competition doping test. After months of defending the athlete, Chinese commentators have been taking to the internet once again — but this time, they’re apologizing.

The recipient of their sympathy is Australian swimmer Mack Horton, a longtime “rival” of Sun’s and favorite target of online vitriol from former fans of Sun. Horton has refused to take the medal stand with Yang and called him a “drug cheat” for his past doping allegations. 

Now that Sun has fallen from grace, Twitter, Instagram, and Chinese social media site Weibo are flooding with comments condemning the former national star, praising Horton for standing up for clean sports, and apologizing for their previous treatment of the Aussie.

“Sun Yang, China’s lone wolf, a mama’s boy and giant baby,” writes Weibo user Ooooeek in one highly-upvoted comment. “The idiot of swimming […] a pitiful and pathetic child,” they add.

Horton has not responded directly to this sudden outpouring of Chinese support. On the news of Sun’s ban, he told Seven News: “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 […] I’m just a guy still chasing the dream.”

Sun told state news agency Xinhua that he and his team would be appealing the decision to the Swiss supreme court, while a new version of the World Anti Doping Authority’s code due to come into force in 2021 could allow for reduced suspensions in cases such as Sun’s. If his appeal is denied, it will effectively mean the end of one of the most successful swimming careers of all time, albeit one now mired in suspicion and controversy. 

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United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief executive Travis Tygart and several other sport leaders have called for Sun to be stripped of all his gold medals, a move that would see two of those medals going to Horton. 

Allison Jiang
    Allison Jiang is a Baltimore-based writer interested in the intersection of art and culture. She is passionate about big dogs, social justice, and stand-up comedy, among other things.