One of Mack Horton's closest friends in swimming, Italy's Olympic 1500m champion Gregorio Paltrinieri, has expressed his sadness at the climax to the Sun Yang saga, saying he found nothing to rejoice about following a dramatic end to an equally dramatic career.
Sun has been banned for eight years for tampering with a doping sample, with many rejoicing as one of the sport's pantomime villains heads for the exits just months from the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Paltrinieri doesn't share their excitement, while many others within the sport have a degree of sympathy for Sun, who they believe has been trapped in the demanding Chinese sporting machine and exploited for his athletic abilities.
Chinese swimmer Sun Yang appears at the hearing in Montreux, Switzerland.Credit:Live stream
A regular training partner of Horton and frequent visitor to the Australian's training base in Melbourne, Paltrinieri said Sun's story left him with a feeling of 'sadness' given he idolised Sun as a young swimmer and used his world-record times as motivation.
"To me this whole story leaves only so much sadness, as always in all cases of doping. I really can’t celebrate because one of my rivals is found positive for doping. I don’t find anything beautiful, I just can’t rejoice. I will say a paradox, I am almost sorry that this news came out," he said.
He qualified his remarks by telling Sky in Europe that he didn't feel any particular personal sympathy for Sun, who wasn't a popular figure on pool deck, but took little joy out of the whole episode.
"Sorry for him certainly not. My displeasure stems from the fact that Sun Yang has marked my professional growth as an athlete. Since I was a child he has always been my point of reference, he was the champion I wanted to beat, I worked hard to be able to compete face to face with him, I dreamed of challenging him side by side in lanes four and five and I managed to do it.
"Knowing now that there has been the help of doping, really, behind some of its competitions, takes away a little from everything."
Horton has always insisted there was nothing personal against Sun and it was what he represented that sparked his rebellious side. Those close to the swimmer insist that is more than lip service and he took no particular pleasure in Sun's spectacular downfall.
Sun has made it clear he will appeal to the Swiss supreme court in the matter but his chances of victory will be slim. He must now find a way to live outside of a sport which has been the only thing he has known as a teenager and adult.
There had been suggestions Sun had wanted to retire after the Rio Olympics but was compelled to continue swimming by Chinese officials. And those close to him, like Australian coach Denis Cotterell, insist he is anything but the temperamental character seen by the outside world.
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