SYDNEY (Reuters) - Mack Horton says the eight-year doping ban handed out to his rival Sun Yang, who the Australian swimmer once famously described as a "drug cheat", was a statement to the world about clean sport.
Barring a successful appeal, multiple Olympic and world champion Sun's competitive career was brought to an end by Friday's decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
After publicly calling him a cheat at the Rio Olympics, Horton had refused to shake Sun's hand or join him on the podium after taking silver behind his Chinese rival in the 400 meters freestyle at last year's world championships in South Korea.
"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 told Australia's Seven News as he headed to training on Saturday.
"I’m just a guy still chasing the dream so, you know, we've got a job to do this morning and we'll just keep going."
Fulfilling that dream of winning Olympic gold in the 400m freestyle in Tokyo later this year will be considerably easier for Horton after Sun's ban.
CAS had accepted an appeal from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) against a decision by swimming body FINA to clear Sun of wrongdoing for smashing vials containing blood samples during an out-of-competition test in 2018.Sun, 28, said through China's state news agency Xinhua that he would appeal the ban in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.
While Horton was already experiencing the start of a backlash from angry Sun fans on social media, some of his fellow swimmers welcomed the ban.
South African butterfly specialist Chad Le Clos, who finished second behind Sun in the 200m freestyle at the Rio Games, said it should not be forgotten that cheating had an impact on other athletes.
"Like many other clean swimmers, I have raced against Sun Yang and 'lost'," he posted on Twitter.
"Drug cheats have no place in sport and we need the governing bodies to reconsider the damage he has done to our great sport - and to the results / careers of many other clean swimmers."
Sun, whose punishment was so severe because he had served a previous ban for the use of a banned substance in 2014, will keep his many medals because the tests before and after his latest infraction were negative, CAS said.
British Olympic and world 100m breaststroke champion Adam Peaty said the decision was "very good".
"For anyone that's been banned once, potentially it’s a mistake. The odds are yeah – you could have taken any supplement or whatever," he told Swimming World.
"You’re looking at it twice – you’re a fool. I believe that you’re disrespecting the sport, you’re disrespecting yourself and you’re disrespecting your country."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Stephen Coates)