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Russia’s Yulia Efimova served a suspension for using the banned substance meldonium this year, but was allowed to compete in Rio.

Michael Sohn/AP

There used to be an unwritten rule that Olympians would never call each other out over suspicions of doping, fearing they would instead be branded a sore loser.

But that sense of decorum has been blown out of the water at these Olympics, particularly in the pool, where swimmers have become fed up with having to keep their mouths shut over doping.

A war of words has erupted after races, with some swimmers referring to competitors as "dopers" and "cheats," while openly criticizing the International Olympic Committee's handling of athletes who fail drug tests.

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Rio Olympics Day 6: What to watch and the latest news

Whispers and murmurs at previous Olympics have become outright trash talk in Rio.

After winning the 400-metre freestyle gold over Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, Australian swimmer Max Horton referred to the Chinese star, who served a three-month suspension for banned substances in 2014, as a "drug cheat."

Horton said his victory was "for the good guys." He said he was just stating the facts.

An international scandal ensued: The Chinese demanded an apology, which they didn't get. Swimmers from other countries rallied around Horton, including 25-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps.

"I think that it's sad that in sports today [there are] people who are testing positive not only once but twice and still having the opportunity to swim at this Games," Phelps said.

"It breaks my heart and I wish somebody would do something about it."

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Much of the criticism is directed at Russia, after the IOC backed off imposing an outright ban on its athletes following an investigation that determined it ran a systemic doping program at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The IOC ended up reinstating 70 per cent of the Russian team to compete in Rio, leaving out only the most obvious multiple offenders.

One of the athletes reinstated, swimmer Yulia Efimova, is now greeted with a chorus of boos when she competes. Efimova served a suspension for using the banned substance meldonium this year, but was allowed to compete in Rio. This in particular has rankled swimmers from several countries.

American Lily King openly glared at Efimova before one race, then later questioned why she was allowed to compete. King stood her ground, saying all athletes who have been caught doping should not be reinstated. Asked if that meant some of her teammates, too, she included American sprinter Justin Gatlin as an example.

"Do I think somebody who has been caught doping should be on the team?" King said of Gatlin, who has served past doping suspensions. "No, I do not."

"I'm proud to be competing clean and doing what is right."

It may be the dawning of a new era of free speech at the Olympics. Unlike in Rio, athletes at previous Games remained quiet because they didn't want to be branded as complainers.

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Canadian swimmer Marianne Limpert, who won silver in the 200-metre medley at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, said she and other athletes feared a backlash if they spoke up.

"I didn't want to look like a sore loser," Limpert said. "I can lose a race fair and square and I have no problem with that. If someone was better than I was on the day, that's fine."

Limpert placed second behind Ireland's Michelle Smith, who competed under a cloud of suspicions in Atlanta. Smith was later banned from the sport after allegations she tampered with her urine sample at another meet.

Limpert said there used to be no upside to being vocal.

"I tried not to come out too much because it's all about sportsmanship and not wanting to look like a sore loser," Limpert said. "But there were enough other people that were publicly coming out and questioning her performances."

Smith, now a lawyer in Ireland, has challenged those who criticize her races in Atlanta. But her subsequent ban has left Canadian swimming circles asking what if – not only did Limpert nearly win gold, but teammate Joanne Malar placed fourth in that race.

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"Perhaps Joanne Malar should have been on the podium and I should have been one step higher," Limpert said. "But there's not really much you can do. Those urine samples are long gone, so it's not like they could even be retested at all."

With today's swimmers being much more vocal, the IOC is now struggling with how to deal with the open criticism.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams seemed uncomfortable when asked about Horton this week. While not wanting to tell athletes what they can say, Adams said, "There is a line somewhere."

Such responses from the IOC, which has been criticized for being weak and indecisive on the Russian doping scandal, only fuel the frustrations of other athletes.

Earlier this week, Canadian swimmer Ryan Cochrane questioned the IOC's handling of the Russian doping scandal, saying the efforts didn't go far enough.

"I think we've seen some sanctions against the Russians that maybe we should see against other athletes. And for an athlete that's clean, it's really frustrating to me to see that," Cochrane said.

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