Swimming: Australia says no apology to China in doping row

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Australia will not apologize to China after Mack Horton called his rival and fellow Olympic swimming gold medalist Sun Yang a ‘’drug cheat’’, delegation head Kitty Chiller said on Tuesday.

‘’Australian swimming won’t be apologizing and the Australian Olympic Committee won’t be apologizing. Mack had every right to express that opinion,’’ she told reporters after a day in the pool dominated by doping controversy.

‘’He has strong opinions on the need for clean sport as do each and every one of us and that’s what that statement was about.’’

Chinese web-users unleashed their fury on Horton’s social media accounts, demanding he say sorry after the Australian beat China’s 2012 champion Sun in Saturday’s 400 meters freestyle final.

Horton told the Sydney Morning Herald that he made his comments before the race to unsettle Sun, who won the 200m freestyle gold on Monday, but the description was accurate.

Sun was revealed two years ago to have secretly served a three-month suspension for using a banned stimulant. He said at the time the stimulant was in medication to treat a heart issue and did not enhance his performance.

The controversy took on a bigger dimension on Monday when Sun stood on top of the Rio podium and Russia’s twice-banned swimmer Yulia Efimova took silver in the women’s 100m breaststroke.

Gold medalist Lily King took a strong stance after the women’s race, and was backed by the most medaled Olympian of all Michael Phelps, after also showing her displeasure when Efimova won her semi-final on Sunday.

‘’You’re shaking your finger ‘number one’ and you’ve been caught for drug cheating,’’ King had said then. ‘’I’m not a fan.’’

Efimova was only allowed to compete at the Games after winning an appeal against a ban for a previous doping offence.

Chiller said she welcomed the support of some of the American swimmers for Horton but did not want the controversy affecting her swimmers’ performances.

‘’I think where the situation is now it’s becoming a moral question versus a legal question,’’ she said.

‘’The athletes absolutely have a voice, that’s why we have an athletes’ commission on the IOC and we encourage our athletes to express themselves as well.

‘’From our point of view, I don’t want this to end up being a distraction, especially in the pool,’’ she added.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Neil Robinson