China’s golden tiger adds to legend by whipping Aussie rival in 400m final
BUDAPEST — China’s Sun Yang was gracious following his 400m freestyle victory at the World Aquatics Championships on Sunday as he took revenge over Olympic champion Mack Horton of Australia.
Sun clocked 3 minutes 41.38 seconds, finishing 2.47 sec ahead of second-place Horton, who had previously dubbed his rival a dope cheat prior to beating the Chinese superstar at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Italy’s Gabriele Detti clocked 2.55sec to win bronze as Sun dominated the Budapest final, building on his commanding lead at the halfway point.
Horton had taunted Sun again before the Budapest race, saying it was “a rivalry between clean athletes and those who have tested positive”.
He was referring to Sun’s three-month ban in 2014 for taking a stimulant.
However, Sun enjoyed sweet revenge at the Duna Arena and gave a triumphant shout when he touched the wall first.
But despite taking revenge after his long-standing war of words with Horton, Sun was gracious towards his rival.
“A long time has passed since Rio, we both got stressed, we both calmed down,” said Sun.
“I made a renewed effort in my training, especially in the last six months.
“I believe in this event, I will keep doing better and better ... and so will he.”
Sun’s victory means he now has eight world gold medals spanning four championships, dating back to Shanghai in 2011.
He has now won the 400m world title at each of the past three championships after his triumphs at Barcelona 2013 and Kazan 2015.
Having had to eat humble pie, Horton said his time in the 400m final was more painful than the actual defeat.
“I thought I would have been faster; the time stings more than losing,” said the 21-year-old.
“I thought I was capable of more tonight, I tried to be stronger in the front part of the race.”
Sun could finish with four golds in Budapest, with the 200m, 800m and 1500m freestyle races still to come.
“It’s too early to say,” said Sun, 25, when asked if he was targeting four golds, but said he fears none of his rivals.
“There’s not much about my competitors that I am afraid of — it doesn’t make much sense to be afraid.
“I am not afraid of losing. If you lose, that’s just something you have to deal with.
“I don’t get anxious anymore about the competition, it’s not something you have to take to heart.”
Sun’s winning time was 1.31 sec behind Paul Biedermann’s world record — set at the 2009 worlds during the era when the now-banned neoprene suits were used.
The Chinese star said he is working towards lowering the eight-year-old record — one of the few that still stands from that era.
“It is a really long process,” he said.
“It’s all about training stepby-step and keep pursuing myself to get better in the 400m freestyle.
A long time has passed since Rio, we both got stressed, we both calmed down ... I will keep doing better and better and so will he.” Sun Yang
“I keep looking out for new ways to enhance my performance, I am satisfied with my progress.
“I’ ll keep doing more training, I think this is the way to break a world record.”
Credit to coaches
“I didn’t realize I could win in such a dominant way,” added Sun. “My rivals didn’t race badly today, but I swam better this time.”
Sun credited the result to his work with coaches Zheng Kunliang and Denis Cotterell.
“My coaches have been working so hard to help me to improve,” said Sun, who even cried out during some partic- ularly tense training sessions.
“A few days ago, I even wanted to give up and disappear during training. But then I thought about my coaches. I need to respect them and I want to meet their standards.
“When I worked it out, I made progress.”
Cotterell, an Australian, said he was pleased with Sun’s performance on Sunday evening.
“He is a great athlete. No matter what I say at the moment, when the time comes for them to get on the block, they have to be the individuals.
“When it comes to the race, it’s the moment of truth.”
Cotterell added he understood the pressure Sun was under.
“Yesterday we had a good talk about how to reduce the pressure,” said the coach.
“The whole nation, friends, trying to please the coach, for a number of reasons. But we have to make sure you don’t take it as pressure.
“You try to see it as a support that can lift you up, and inspire. Otherwise it goes another way. It’s very easy for all that support to become pressure. I’m just so pleased that he executed the perfect race.”
China's Sun Yang celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 400m freestyle final at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest on Sunday. It was Sun’s third straight gold in the event.