Sun completes triple crown sweep

Updated: 2013-08-06 06:49

By Xinhua in Barcelona (China Daily)

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 Sun completes triple crown sweep

Sun Yang celebrates his victory in the men's 1,500m freestyle final at the world aquatics championships in Barcelona on Sunday. Albert Gea / Reuters

Sun completes triple crown sweep

China's king of distance freestyle notches golden trifecta at worlds

China's Sun Yang is the new king of distance freestyle swimming after completing a hat-trick of world titles by winning the 1,500m final at the world aquatics championships in Barcelona on Sunday.

Sun earlier struck gold in the 400 and 800 at Barcelona, matching a feat previously achieved only by Australia's Grant Hackett at the 2005 worlds in Montreal.

On Sunday, the 21-year-old won in 14 min 41.15 sec, with Canada's Ryan Cochrane 1.33 sec back for silver and Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri trailing by 4.22 to take bronze.

"I just tried to stay as close to Cochrane as possible because I knew I could go faster in the last 100 meters," said Sun.

Sun became the leading light of Chinese swimming when he shredded Hackett's old 1,500m record at the 2011 Shanghai worlds - a mark he lowered again at the London Olympics last summer.

But he admitted a change in coaches after the Olympics meant he wasn't in the best condition to break the record in a third consecutive major championships.

"This is a very difficult gold medal for me. I felt very tired in the first 1,000 meters," he said.

"After the Olympics I had to overcome a lot of problems, but I have come back and learned a lot through this process. My training was not systematic, and that is why I was not in condition for a world record."

Sun joined basketball giant Yao Ming and tennis queen Li Na as Chinese sports icons after winning two gold medals at the London Games, but dating a stewardess after his return from London led to some struggles in balancing his personal life with his career.

That led to a huge falling out between Sun and his long-time mentor, Zhu Zhigen. Despite gestures of reconciliation from both sides in March, Sun still asked to leave Zhu, with whom he had trained for 10 years. He later hooked up with former national team head coach Zhang Yadong.

"Training alone was an unforgettable situation. It was a difficult time. I had to do everything by myself. I have trained hard every hour of every day and I want to get better results," Sun said, choking with emotion.

All the switches led to questions over Sun's form, and at one point the Chinese team wanted him to skip the 800m at this worlds. But Sun was also entered in the 800m free, plus the 4x200 free relay.

It didn't take long for the freestyle specialist to prove he'd made the right decision.

Sun repeated his Olympic feat with a commanding swim in the 400m free as he touched in an impressive time of 3:41.59, almost 2.5 seconds ahead of Japan's Kosuke Hagina. It was also a new world fastest time of the year.

He then became only the second man to defend his gold medal in the 800m free at the championships when he swam to a comfortable victory with a world leading time of 7:41.36.

Sun's most incredible performance in Barcelona was in the 4x200m freestyle relay. He was fifth when he got into the water, but produced the best split of the race to swim his final leg in 1:43.96 and give China a miraculous bronze medal.

Over the weekend, Zhu Zhigen expressed his willingness to be back with Sun.

"Sun is still a child and he needs time to grow up," said his former coach.

"I always care about him and I hope he can understand me. I have never thought of giving up.

"Sun communicated with me before and after every race," Zhu said. "I told him that sunshine always comes after the rain, and my door is always open to him."

(China Daily 08/06/2013 page24)