Sun Yang: China’s King Swim­mer

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Li Zhuoxi

At the Bu­dapest 2017 FINA World Cham­pi­onships in July, Chi­nese swim­mer Sun Yang won his first ti­tle in men’s 200m freestyle with a time of 1:44.39 to record his ground­break­ing vic­tory, beat­ing the Asian record of 1:44.47 he set in 2013. Also in Bu­dapest, he claimed

the men’s 400m freestyle ti­tle for the third con­sec­u­tive time.

Sun took gold in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle be­fore his 200m tri­umph at the Worlds. And the swim­mer is al­ready the Olympic cham­pion in the 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle.

The Lows of Sun’s Life

Only a year ago, Sun, whose per­for­mance at the FINA World Cham­pi­onships in Bu­dapest stunned the world, was at a low ebb in his swim­ming ca­reer.

In early 2016, while train­ing in Aus­tralia for the up­com­ing Rio Olympics, Sun suf­fered a frac­ture in his right foot. Dur­ing a sub­se­quent visit to doc­tors, un­ex­pect­edly, a new frac­ture was found. Only two months re­mained un­til the Rio Olympic Games, and those in­juries haunted Sun’s Olympic jour­ney.

Sun only fin­ished sec­ond to Aus­tralian Mack Hor­ton in the men’s 400m freestyle final, tak­ing the sil­ver. Be­fore the swim, Hor­ton ac­cused Sun of be­ing a “drug cheat” as they pre­pared to face off in the 400m final. Both phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal blows knocked Sun down to a low point in his life. He even be­gan to con­sider re­tire­ment.

Hor­ton’s re­marks re­sulted from a dop­ing test Sun took in May 2014. When par­tic­i­pat­ing in that year’s Chi­nese Na­tional Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships, the record-holder tested pos­i­tive for the banned stim­u­lant trimetazi­dine. But in a hear­ing or­ga­nized by the China Anti-dop­ing Agency in July 2014, Sun pro­vided suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence in­clud­ing his per­sonal med­i­cal his­tory and doc­tors’ pre­scrip­tions to prove he was pre­scribed the drug to treat heart pal­pi­ta­tions he has suf­fered since 2008. Sun also ad­mit­ted that he was not aware that the drug had been added to the 2014 pro­hib­ited list of the World Anti-dop­ing Agency (WADA). Since Sun did not in­tend to cheat, he only re­ceived a three-month ban.

How­ever, West­ern opin­ion, which tends to ob­serve China’s sports with tinted glasses, wasn’t sat­is­fied with the three­month ban and had much to say. Just be­fore the 2017 Bu­dapest FINA World Cham­pi­onships, Mack Hor­ton taunted Sun again just like at the Rio Olympics. How­ever, since los­ing to Sun in the 400m freestyle in Bu­dapest, Hor­ton qui­eted down and pledged to let the is­sue go.

Hon­ing His Skills

Sun’s suc­cess comes from tireless ef­forts and hard work. To pre­pare for the Bu­dapest games, Sun en­gaged in spe­cial train­ing ses­sions in China’s Kun­ming and Aus­tralia, which had be­come the rou­tine for the pro­lific swim­mer. Dur­ing the final prepa­ra­tions, Sun stayed in Hong Kong for par­tic­u­larly in­tense train­ing ses­sions he de­signed, which were added to his al­ready packed “nor­mal” train­ing sched­ule. “Once, I wanted to get out of the pool, put on my clothes and leave the pool for­ever,” grinned Sun.

In the 200m freestyle race, the short dis­tance makes start­ing and turn­ing tech- niques even more im­por­tant. Sun’s ad­van­tages in longer-dis­tance swim­ming are re­duced in the sprint. Dur­ing his train­ing in Aus­tralia, Sun worked end­lessly on his start, low­er­ing his head even later, “slid­ing” for more time in the air, and op­ti­miz­ing the an­gle of en­trance. Im­proved start­ing and turn­ing tech­niques en­abled Sun to make new break­throughs in both the 200m and 400m races.

Sun, who al­ready dom­i­nates the 1,500m freestyle, was bold enough to change his tech­niques to im­prove per­for­mance. The Bu­dapest race val­i­dated his ef­forts with fruit­ful re­sults.

Not Just Gold

Sun is much more than China’s gold medal­ist swim­mer.

Ten years ago, China’s swim­ming was so weak it was ig­nored by the in­ter­na­tional sports com­mu­nity. Asian swim­mers had sel­dom ex­celled in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. For a long time, in­ter­na­tional swim­ming medals were “mo­nop­o­lized” by the United States and Aus­tralia.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Aus­tralian swim­mer Ian James Thorpe won three gold medals in “shark skin” suits, tight-fit­ting cov­er­ing de­signed to im­i­tate a shark’s unique, sand­pa­per-like skin. Stud­ies found that the high-tech suit could re­duce wa­ter re­sis­tance by 3 per­cent. Over the next eight years, 15 of 16 new world swim­ming records were ac­com­plished by swim­mers wear­ing “shark skin” suits.

Dur­ing this era, only Aus­tralian Grant Hack­ett’s 2001 world record of 14:34.56 in the 1,500m freestyle re­mained un­bro­ken. Ten years later, how­ever, the revered 1,500m freestyle record was bro­ken by Sun Yang.

At the 2011 FINA World Cham­pi­onships in Shang­hai, then 19-year-old Sun com­peted in the 1,500m freestyle and fin­ished in 14:34.14, break­ing Hack­ett’s world record by less than a sec­ond. Only one year later, at the 2012 London Olympics, Sun shat­tered his old record with a new time of 14:31.02. Renowned re­tired Rus­sian swim­mer Alexan­der Popov com­mented that Sun’s achieve­ment had a great sig­nif­i­cance not only for China, but for the whole world.

Three years from now, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it would be hard to imag­ine any­one in the pool older than Sun. Will he be able to break the world record one more time? Only time will tell, but a dili­gent ath­lete like Sun de­serves re­spect re­gard­less of any hon­ors.

Au­gust 27, 2017: At the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 13th Na­tional Games of China in Tian­jin, Sun serves as the flag-bearer. IC

July 25, 2017: At the Bu­dapest 2017 FINA World Cham­pi­onships, Sun Yang won the men’s 200m freestyle with a time of 1:44.39 to record a ground­break­ing vic­tory and beat the Asian record he set in 2013. VCG

July 23, 2017: Ath­letes com­pete at the men’s 400m freestyle final at Bu­dapest 2017 FINA World Cham­pi­onships. VCG

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