'Dining hall erupted': Fellow swimmers' epic reaction to Mack Horton protest

Australia's Mack Horton has received a standing ovation at the athletes' village after protesting against controversial Chinese star Sun Yang's 400m freestyle win at the world swimming titles.

American breaststroke champion Lilly King revealed Horton was greeted with applause from fellow competitors when he returned from the pool after refusing to acknowledge Sun on Sunday night.

Olympic champion Horton did not shake hands with his bitter rival after being relegated to 400m silver by Sun and refused to join him on the podium on the titles' opening night at Gwangju, South Korea.

Horton was unhappy that Sun, who served a 2014 doping ban, had been allowed to compete ahead of a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September that may end the Chinese star's career.

DISTURBING: China sends death threats to Horton and girlfriend

STUNNING: Why bronze medallist didn’t join Horton’s protest

The 10-time world champion has been accused of smashing vials of his blood with a hammer during a clash last year with testers and faces a lifetime ban if found guilty.

"We were kind of waiting around for that awards ceremony to see what was going to happen and yeah it was awesome," two-time Olympic gold medallist King said.

"When we walked into the dining hall, he walked in after us and like the whole dining hall erupted in applause so it was pretty great to see the athletes united on his stance and supporting him as well.

"I don't think anyone at FINA's going to stand up for the athletes so the athletes have to stand up for themselves."

Australia's silver medallist Mack Horton refused to share the podium with Sun Yang. Pic: Getty

Australian officials spoke with world body FINA on Sunday night and were assured Horton did not face any sanction over his protest.

But Sun, who claimed a fourth straight 400m world title, said Horton's stance was disrespectful to China.

"It was unfortunate because disrespecting me is okay but disrespecting China was very unfortunate and I felt sorry about that," he said.

The Australian team's reaction to Horton's protest will no doubt further infuriate Sun with the Dolphins throwing their support behind the 23-year-old.

"That was his idea to do that. But let's put it this way, I understand him very much," Dolphins head coach Jacco Verhaeren said of the protest.

"He has been very strong and vocal about this in the past ... you can only respect him for what he does."

Teammate Mitch Larkin said "99 per cent" of athletes at Gwangju backed Horton's Sun snub.

"I think 100 per cent of the Aussie athletes certainly back Mack up. While he was standing alone on the podium last night he's not standing alone in spirit," he said.

"I would say 99 per cent of the athletes here support what he does. We are all fighting for a clean sport."

The controversy has added another chapter to Horton's bitter rivalry with Sun.

It began when Horton dismissed Sun as a "drug cheat" at the Rio Olympics, prompting the Chinese swimming team to demand an official apology.

Their feud escalated after Horton upset Sun to claim a shock 400m freestyle gold at the 2016 Games.