It looks like Mack Horton struck a nerve.
After his stunning 400m freestyle win over Chinese champion Sun Yang, Horton is now battling tens of thousands of trolls trying to make his life miserable on social media.
The feud between the two has quickly become the early media highlight of the Games, but it started a few days before competition.
During training, Fairfax Media broke news that Yang had been taunting and splashing Horton.
After cruising to the final, Horton was asked about the report. He replied:
“It kind of got played up in the media. He just kind of splashed me but I ignored him because I don’t have time or respect for drug cheats. He wasn’t too happy about that so he kept splashing me. I just got in and did my thing.”
Yang secretly served a three-month doping ban in 2014.
According to Horton, who immediately came under fire for the comments, his last 50m in the 400m final were spent thinking about what would happen if he lost to Yang.
“The last 50 metres I was thinking about what I said and what would happen if he gets me here,” Horton said.
Chinese fans aren’t going to let him enjoy his win in peace. After his comments became a top-trending hashtag topic on China’s Weibo this morning, Horton’s social media profile became a target.
One photo on his Facebook page alone has 40,000 comments, the vast majority from Yang fans insulting Horton and trying to shame him into an apology.
Unfortunately, they’re mostly memorable for their comedic value. You don’t have to drill down too far to get the drift:
Had enough yet, Mack?
It didn’t help that as Horton’s comments were going viral on Weibo, so too was footage of Sun bursting into tears in the media zone, with the hashtag “Sun Yang Don’t Cry”.
Stay classy, China trolls.
Just before 3pm yesterday, Horton’s Wikipedia page was placed under protection as racist comments and insults began to pollute his profile. Attention has since also turned to Horton’s Twitter profile.
Chinese swim officials have demanded an apology from Horton ahead of what is now the most anticipated event of the first week, when the two meet in the men’s 1500m on Sunday morning.
But the Australian Olympic Committee simply said: “Mack is entitled to express his point of view.”
“Under the team values, ASPIRE, the ‘E’ stands for express yourself; that is his right.
“He has spoken out in support of clean athletes. This is something he feels strongly about and good luck to him.”
Yang certainly wasn’t showing any respect for Horton when asked about who would win on Sunday.
“In 1500m I am the king,” he told Channel 7.
Bring on Sunday.
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