Sun Yang, superstar

Updated: 2012-09-13 07:56

By Lei Lei (China Daily)

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 Sun Yang, superstar

Sun Yang, representing Zhejiang University, swims the first round of the men's 200m freestyle at the University Games of China in Tianjin on Wednesday. Li Xiang / For China Daily

Fresh off his Olympic success, swimmer tries to cope with fame

Star Chinese swimmer Sun Yang has a good idea of what it's like to be iconic hurdler Liu Xiang now minus the injuries, of course.

Wherever Sun goes, he is swamped by large crowds of fans and reporters and endless flashing cameras.

After claiming two gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the London Olympic Games and setting a world record in the men's 1,500m freestyle, the 19-year-old Sun became China's latest sports star. However, his achievements have brought him not only applause and prize money, but also rumors and disputes.

The ongoing ninth University Games of China in Tianjin have provided Sun with the opportunity to compete for the first time since the London Games, as well as a chance to face both his fans and critics.

As the biggest star at the Tianjin games, which run from Sept 8-18, Sun drew the spotlight when he arrived in the city on Sunday night. Although the organizers made special arrangements for Sun's arrival, he was still exposed to the media as soon as he disembarked the plane and some hard questions were asked.

Photos on a website show his mother being rude to photographers who wanted to shoot him after a training session on Tuesday. He said nothing to reporters after training and left the venue as quickly as possible with his mother.

An entry on Sina Weibo by someone in Tianjin later on Tuesday claimed Sun threatened to withdraw from the meet due to the preliminary session being "too early" and sat in a luxury car, allegedly provided by the organizing committee, while ignoring all reporters except those from CCTV.

It was re-tweeted more than 1,000 times in short order. Sun had to clear up the incident at a media conference that afternoon.

"I am the same Sun Yang as before. I have no intention of putting on airs," Sun said at the event, which was specially arranged by the organizers. "I only hope the public can leave some private room for me."

His mother also said the car that took him to the venue was provided by friends of the family.

Sun Yang, superstar

"The cars are owned by our friends in Tianjin, and they voluntarily carried us," said Sun's mother, Yang Ming.

"After we arrived in Tianjin, a large number of media surrounded us to take photos no matter where we went. Sun dared not go downstairs for dinner, so I had to bring food to his room."

No matter if he likes or not, the Tianjin games, which should be an ordinary national event with much less media attention, is now on a different scale because of him.

His training session was a closed-door one, which was a first at the event.

The swimming competitions in which he will take part have been listed as high-demand sessions - like those events at the Olympics. Reporters are required to have an extra ticket or pass to enter the venue for his events.

As a student at Zhejiang University, Sun is in his third year studying sports training at the College of Education. He will take part in six events at the Tianjin games: the 200m, 400m 800m, and 1,500m freestyle, and two relay races.

Sun said he just wanted to be an ordinary student at the games.

"I am taking part in these games as a normal university student. Please don't lift me to any high position," Sun said.

"I've never participated in the University Games before, so I really want to experience the atmosphere here. I want to share the happiness of sports with other students.

"The Olympic Games is the highest stage for athletes. If we want to step on to it, we have to conquer many difficulties. I hope all the students don't just look at my results at the Olympics, but also the effort it took. Everybody needs such willingness to succeed. It is the Olympic spirit."

His team hopes Sun's participation at the games will help spur more students to take up sports.

"Sun's participation is significant in the aspect of his influence, but not what results he can achieve," said Ye Donghui, leader of the Zhejiang swimming team.

"We all know that the physical condition of some students is poor and most of them are not used to doing sports. An elite student athlete like Sun should be a good influence on them."

(China Daily 09/13/2012 page24)