Sun still shining bright after troubled year

Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:09am EDT
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By Julian Linden

(Reuters) - Sun Yang has always been different from China's other top swimmers, as much a maverick as a pioneer.

And not just because he is the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming gold medal. Or that he spent time in jail.

While most of China's best swimmers prefer to keep a low profile, Sun just cannot escape the spotlight, courting drama and controversy wherever he goes.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Sun won the 400 and 1,500 meters freestyle gold medals, as well as a silver in the 200m and a bronze in relay, but nothing was routine.

He came within a whisker of breaking the 400m world record on the first day, just ahead of his great South Korean rival Park Tae-hwan, who was disqualified for a false start in the heats then reinstated on appeal and allowed to contest the final.

Sun then dead-heated with Park in the 200m then was almost disqualified himself in the 1,500m - his best event - when he lost his balance and tumbled into the water after an official aborted the start when someone in the crowd yelled out.

Swimmers receive an automatic disqualification for false starts but Sun was allowed to retain his spot because the official starter had told the swimmers to stand up from their crouching position because of the crowd noise.

Sun's nerves were frayed but he responded by slashing more than three seconds off his own world record to easily win gold.   Continued...

China's Sun Yang poses with his FINA trophy for best male swimmer at the World Swimming Championships at the Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona August 4, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea