A star reborn

Updated: 2013-08-13 07:25

By Tang Zhe (China Daily)

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 A star reborn

Sun Yang says he is now preparing for the upcoming National Games and will only consider who his future coach may be after the games. China Photo Press

 A star reborn

Sun Yang undergoes a training session under the guidance of Zhu Zhigen in early March, after they were briefly reconciled. China Photo Press

A star reborn

Olympic swimming hero Sun Yang lost some of the luster of his big win by being too impulsive and outspoken. Today, he's a more balanced athlete, and firmly back on the winner's podium, Tang Zhe reports.

His history-breaking win at the London Olympic Games established Sun Yang as one of China's most promising sports figures after Yao Ming, Liu Xiang and Li Na.

Beyond being a sports hero, the young man - who broke the country's Olympic gold-medal drought in men's swimming - made himself a controversial topic out of the pool.

While most of the Chinese athletes who are nurtured through the State-run system modestly obey the team rules, Sun felt shackled by that system.

He criticized the sports officials for taking him to sign a commercial deal without acknowledging him. He also publicized his romantic relationship on his micro blog account on Jan 31. One day later, Sun was reported to have neglected systematic training for more than 40 days. Then he asked to change his coach, Zhu Zhigen, who had trained him for almost

a decade, due to conflict during training.

The two sides broke the ice in a reconciliation mediated by the Zhejiang College of Sports in early March. But shortly after, another fight that got physical ended the relationship, and Sun was left in Hangzhou when Zhu led other swimmers to train in Kunming, Yunnan province.

His disagreements with the coach placed Sun under harsh public scrutiny, with many people questioning his future prospects as an athlete.

Fortunately, the talented swimmer saved himself from criticism and rebuilt his heroic image by sweeping three gold medals in men's freestyle 400m, 800m and 1,500m, and a 4x200m medley bronze at the 13th FINA World Championship, which also made him the first Chinese swimmer to be named as the tournament's best male swimmer.

He also becomes the most productive Chinese swimmer by collecting seven world champion titles in two World Championships and one Olympics, surpassing retired female swimmer Luo Xuejuan, who had six world titles.

Sun's overwhelming performance in the pool may signal new stability for the young star after a rocky year.

Unlike the bad boy who was at odds with media and his coach, Sun appeared to be more mature in Barcelona.

"I met the biggest difficulty of my life in the past half year. I was not training well in the last two months, and was not as fit as I was for the Olympics. But I wanted to do my best in the competition and not let down those who supported me," says Sun, who burst into tears after winning the 400m freestyle.

"I have gone through a lot after the Olympic Games, and I have learned how to deal with everything around me in appropriate ways," he says. "All that happened to me were not all bad, but they have made me more mature.

"I am young, and I make mistakes sometimes, but I am back now and I will become better next year," says Sun, adding that he still needs time to reach the lofty heights of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett.

After Sun's successive wins, his relationship with his old and new coaches were in the spotlight at the Worlds.

Sun has been coached by Zhang Yadong, the former coach of Luo, since July. Coaching a champion adds luster to a career and also means monetary rewards for winning gold medals for the country.

Zhu extended an olive branch to his student after Sun's domination of the 400m and 800m races.

"My door is always open for him," Zhu says. "I care about him all the time. Let the past be past."

Zhang has made clear that the choice is up to Sun and the sports officials.

Sun has made a point of honoring both coaches.

After winning the 800m freestyle, Sun says Zhang has helped him improve his speed and recognized the coach's strategy in the race. But he didn't forget to express his gratitude to Zhu, who "greatly enhanced my ability with aerobic exercises".

"Both the coaches have brought up champions and have their own strengths," Sun says. He says he's not sure now which coach he wants to pair up with in the long run, "but I hope we can have more space to deal with it, as it is not only a matter for myself but also for Chinese swimming".

"I will consider it carefully and answer the question after the National Games," he says.

Shang Xiutang, deputy head of the swimming administrative center of the State sports authority, expected the public to be more tolerant about the young swimmer, and focus on his athletic result, instead of shortcomings.

Sports commentator Su Dong advises Sun to learn how to cope with the pressure of being the star from his predecessors.

"He is young and good-looking, but he was somewhat losing control after coming into fame since the Olympics.

"It's not easy to be an idol. Even for Yao Ming, Liu Xiang and Li Na, each trifle could be magnified, that's the price of being the focal point," he says. "As long as Sun is on that center stage, he should be careful of everything he does."

Contact the writer at tangzhe@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 08/13/2013 page20)