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Here's Why Chinese Teens Are So Protective Of Olympic Swimmer Sun Yang

"Sun Yang is the Olympic champion of the Chinese people. We are always proud of him."

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Chinese swimmer Sun Yang has been the topic of criticism and controversy ever since Australian swimmer Mack Horton called him a "cheat" on day one of the Olympics.

Al Bello / Getty Images

Referring to a failed drug test by Yang in 2014, Horton's comments both before and after the men's 400-metre freestyle final acted as a catalyst for a broader discussion on drug use in sport, with Olympians from all disciplines weighing in.

French swimmer Camille Lacourt hit out at Sun Yang on Tuesday, saying the 200-metre freestyle champion "pissed purple".

Instagram: Camile Lacourt / Via instagram.com

He joined a growing list of disgruntled Olympians, including American swimmer Cody Miller and 21-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, who cast doubt on the doping procedures at the Rio games.

“I think it’s sad that in sports today we have people who are testing positive not only once but twice, and still have the opportunity to swim at the games,” Phelps said.

During all of this, Sun Yang's huge Chinese fanbase (he has 24 million followers on Weibo) sent messages of hate and abuse to both Horton and Lacourt on social media.

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The trolling was so intense that Horton was forced to lock down his Instagram account, deleting comments and stopping any further posts.

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BuzzFeed News spoke to Chinese swim fans to ask them why Sun Yang means so much to them and why he warranted such intense defence.

"He's a huge icon in China since 2012," said Simon Chen, a Chinese national who lives in Manchester, England. "He’s one of our main hopes, so we’re quite sensitive of what the foreign media has said."

Chen said the widespread criticism from Western media regarding Sun Yang is too critical, likening the "medication" Sun was taking when he returned a positive drugs test in 2014 to the growth medication given to Argentinean footballer Lionel Messi. "[Sun] was taking medication for his health problem," Chen said.

Zhu Yue was one of thousands of people using Twitter to blast the social feeds of Horton and Lacourt. She said she had an "anger towards Horton" because he had showed a lack of respect.

@_mackhorton The result is not important but you slander SunYang taking drugs.You are not qualified to comment an effort of the athletes

"Sun Yang is the Olympic champion of the Chinese people," she said. "We are always proud of him."

Zhu Yue, like Chen, believed the media coverage of Sun's time at the Rio Games was unfair. She said there was no reason to focus on Sun's positive drug test: "If this is the excuse, then why [is Sun Yang] only suspended for three months?

"When I repeatedly tell people the truth, a lot of people have a prejudice towards Sun. They don't believe. I also have no way [to prove Sun Yang is not a cheat] but the Chinese are always proud of Sun and believe him."

Supgirlll10.7 was using Instagram to swarm the accounts of both Horton and Lacourt. Her protection of Sun Yang was about more than the Olympics.

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"Don't you think [Australia's] media looked down on us?" she asked. "Racist. You guys don't like Asians. We all know that."

Supgirlll10.7 said no one in China believes Sun is a drug cheater, and that Horton's cockiness showed a lack of respect. The Australian swim team's decision to issue a statement midweek that they wouldn't be apologising for Horton's comments also angered her.

"Australian officials don't apologise," she said. "They don't admit it ... This is an insult. Mack Horton lied to everyone. Sun Yang is a hero, he's winning glory for China, so we all trust him."

Sun Yang and Horton will meet again in the 1,500-metre men's freestyle race on Saturday. Sun is the current world record holder in the event, and has described himself as the "1500-metre king".

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