Aussie swimmer 'disrespects China' after refusing to take podium with rival

An Australian Olympic champion swimmer has allegedly insulted all of China after refusing to stand on the podium with a Chinese rival who beat him at this year's World Championships.

Australian silver medallist Mack Horton stands away from the podium as China's Sun Yang receives the gold medal at the world swimming championships in South Korea. Source: Getty

Mack Horton refused to stand beside Sun Yang for the medals presentation after he was pipped in the 400-metre freestyle final overnight - a reverse result from when the pair faced off at the Rio Games.

Their rivalry was sparked in 2016, when Horton labelled Sun a "drug cheat" in relation to the three-month doping ban he had previously served.

Sun is still facing potential consequences for doping as well, with the Chinese swimmer facing a lifetime ban in September with the World Anti Doping Agency, appealing a doping panel's ruling that absolved him of blame for smashing a vial of blood due to be taken for testing.

Horton took a stand against Sun after the race, refusing to stand on the podium for the medal presentation and national anthem.

"I think you know what the rivalry is like," Horton said after the race.

"His actions - and how it's been handled - speak louder than anything I'll ever say."

Sun was much more vocal in response, saying Horton had disrespected China with his actions.

"Yes, I was aware that the Australian athlete had dissatisfaction and personal feelings towards me, but it was unfortunate because disrespecting me is okay but disrespecting China was very unfortunate and I felt sorry about that," Sun said.

Horton could face sanctions from swimming's governing body for refusing to take his place in the presentation but Australia's head coach, Jacco Verhaeren, backed him.

"Nobody actually knew, that was his idea to do that," Verhaeren said. "Let's put it this way, I understand him very much. He has been very strong and vocal about this in the past...You can only respect him for what he does.

"Mack stands for what he stands for. Nobody can take that away from him, nobody should. But we move on and into the next races."