Heroic Horton crushes Sun, everyone else

 

Australia's men's 4x200m relay team won gold in a thrilling race on Friday night, beating Russia (2nd) and USA (3rd) for the top prize as Mack Horton resumed his rivalry with Sun Yang.

Both men swam the anchor legs for their countries but while China (6th) was too far behind for Sun to muster a miracle and put his team into medal contention, Horton was immense as he led the way towards a memorable victory.

The Aussies had a slender lead when Horton dived off the blocks amid close competition from Great Britain, America and Russia but while the 23-year-old made headlines for his podium protest against Sun, this time he'll ensure everyone is talking about his spectacular performance in the pool rather than out of it.

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Horton produced a breathtaking split of 1:44.85 - the only member of the Australian quartet to break the 1:45 barrier - as he stormed home to send his teammates into rapturous celebrations.

"It was a very good end (to the world championships)," Horton said. "That anchor leg's always tough.

"There's a lot of pressure on it but I think it's always a privilege to be able to anchor your team and just put the body on the line for the boys."

The unit of Clyde Lewis, Kyle Chalmers, Alex Graham and Horton combined to finish in 7:00.85 and replicate the effort of their female compatriots, who had also won gold in the 4x200 relay earlier in the world championships.

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Horton received a well deserved hug from his teammates.
Horton received a well deserved hug from his teammates.

 

 

Lewis was up first and set the pace with a 1:45.58 split and Chalmers - a 100m specialist - showed he can contribute in the longer distance too with an impressive 1:45.37 leg.

Graham them jumped in and swam out of his skin to record the fastest split of all the third-leg swimmers. His 1:45.05 took the Aussies from third to first and Horton did the rest, recording the quickest time of anyone in the field across the entire race.

Finally, Horton was able to step up to the podium at the world titles. After his extraordinary medal ceremony protest against Sun, Horton happily took pride of place alongside his comrades as they basked in the glory of their incredible effort.

The victory marked the first time Australia had won the men's 4x200m freestyle relay world title since 2003, was Australia's fifth gold medal of the meet and remarkably was the fourth win out of five relays to date at Gwangju.

Gold certainly suits the Aussies.
Gold certainly suits the Aussies.

It was a golden end to the world championships for Horton after he sparked an international furore when he refused to acknowledge Sun as the Chinese star relegated him to 400m freestyle silver earlier in the week. Swimmers quickly threw their support behind Horton who was angry Sun had been allowed to compete ahead of a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing in September.

Sun - who served a doping ban in 2014 - faces a lifetime suspension if found guilty of charges that he smashed a vial of his blood with a hammer in a clash with testers at his home last year.

It was ironic the Chinese star was also swimming the anchor leg but this time, he couldn't get near his Aussie rival.

Had China been within striking distance of Australia the relay would have been set up for a spicy finale but there was to be no repeat of Horton's earlier podium protest, although it would have been interesting to see his reaction had Sun and Co. been able to scrape into the top three.

There's been a groundswell of support for Horton since his defiant stance as current and former stars have publicly backed him in making a statement to swimming's governing body FINA about the need to do more to ensure the sport is clean.

Sun wasn't impressed with the sideshow - nor with Scotland's Duncan Scott, who followed Horton's lead by declining to share the podium with Sun or shake his hand after the 200m freestyle final. Sun accused Horton of disrespecting not just him, but the whole of China, and berated Scott on the podium before calling him a "loser" as they walked off the pool deck.

Sun's personal coach, Australian Denis Cotterell, and the head coach of the Chinese swim team have lashed out at the 27-year-old's critics, claiming it's unfair to judge Sun before his case is heard by CAS.

 

Horton and Scott were both issued with official warnings by FINA for their conduct on the podium, while Sun was also reprimanded for hitting out at Scott as he received his medal.

FINA has since said swimmers are in danger of being stripped of medals if they protest in future.

With AAP