Does anyone like Sun Yang?
Does anyone like Sun Yang?

Real reason the world has turned on Sun

FOR all the headlines being generated by Sun Yang's cloudy past and podium protests, chances are even if the Chinese swimmer had never been tainted by doping charges there still wouldn't be too many rivals lining up to shake his hand.

Aussie Mack Horton and Brit Duncan Scott have both refused to stand on the dais with the controversial star at the world championships in South Korea as swimmers pile the pressure on governing body FINA to get serious about cleaning up the sport.

Sun was banned for three months in 2014 for taking the stimulant trimetazidine, used to treat a heart condition, which, while legal for a long time, was added to the World Anti-Doping Authority's banned list months before it was found in his system.

Sun is also facing a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport  in September to determine if there was any foul play when he smashed vials of his own blood when visited by drug testers last year.

That's hardly the resume of someone who will endear himself to competitors, but the reality is there's plenty more material for Sun's critics to latch on to if they're looking for reasons why the majority of people - from outside China, at least - have little sympathy for the 27-year-old even as he proclaims his innocence in the face of Horton and Scott's defiant stands.


Sun Yang can celebrate with the best of them.
Sun Yang can celebrate with the best of them.

Sun's less than stellar reputation on the pool deck and in the training lanes means he's an outcast among swimming's elite.

We saw Kyle Chalmers and Caeleb Dressel high five after an epic battle in the 100m freestyle final in Gwangju, and Cate Campbell has reportedly become close with one of her biggest rivals, Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom.

But Sun is a man flying solo. His exuberant celebration when he won gold in the men's 200m, sitting proudly on the lane rope and punching the water, wasn't well received by the crowd, who loudly booed him.

Celebrating a win is fine, but that Sun showboated so proudly when he claimed gold only after Lithuania's Danas Rapsys was disqualified - somewhat dubiously in the eyes of some - for movement on the starting blocks, rubbed people the wrong way.

Then there was Sun's behaviour on the podium after the 200m final when he berated Scott and shook his fist before the Chinese national anthem.

Follow that with Sun doubling back and calling Scott a "loser" as they walked off, while he referred to himself as a "winner", and you can see why he might not have many mates in the changeroom.


Sun’s not asking Duncan Scott if he wants to grab dinner later.
Sun’s not asking Duncan Scott if he wants to grab dinner later.

If Sun can be forgiven for being overcome with white-line fever, then it's harder to justify some bizarre stories that have emerged about his behaviour during training sessions alongside other swimmers.

At the 2016 Olympics, Horton famously said he had "no time or respect for drug cheats", and while Sun's 2014 episode was undoubtedly front of mind when he made those comments, being taunted by Sun before the Games kicked off would have made it more appealing to give him a spray.

Sun splashed Horton and tried to distract him in a training session before the pair were due to square off in the 400m - but the tactic backfired and Horton won gold.

"The last 50m I was thinking about what I said and what would happen if he gets me here - I didn't have a choice but to beat him," Horton said after the final.

The bad blood flowed into this year's world championships and according to The South China Morning Post, Horton and Sun were warming up next to each other before Sun's coach, Denis Cotterell, moved his pupil from lane four to lane five to keep some distance between the feuding stars.

There's also the incident involving Brazilian swimmer Larissa Oliveira. At the world championships in Russia in 2015, Brazil's head coach Alberto Pinto da Silva accused Sun of elbowing and kicking Oliveira and an official complaint was lodged with FINA - but nothing ever came of it.

"He was warming up and he pulled the Brazilian girl's foot," Pinto da Silva said. "He ran her over. She got angry and had it out with him. He tried to elbow her and kick her.

"He (Sun) said she was bothering him and one of the coaches said that the pool wasn't just his.

"The Canadian (coach) came over to me and said, 'He has already bothered my swimmers.'

"The South African (coach) said he bothered the swimmers when they were swimming. Chile, Argentina, everyone came to tell me what to do. If he's doing that to everyone then he's a dangerous guy, he has no place in sport."

Again, that's hardly the behaviour of someone desperate to win the approval of his colleagues.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, one international coach believes "Sun exists in the 'China bubble', a realm populated by enthusiastic enablers who regularly remind him he can do no wrong".

It's a bubble many of Sun's opponents would love to burst.


Sun may have been cleared of wrongdoing by an independent panel that was convened by FINA to review allegations of him smashing vials of blood when visited by drug testers last year, but that doesn't mean the verdict painted the Chinese megastar as a cleanskin.

Asked to provide blood and urine samples, things turned ugly when Sun - who was with his mum and entourage, and reportedly didn't believe all the testers were properly accredited  - destroyed the glass vials.

The panel handed down a 59-page report that referenced a testing session from 2017 in which Sun was described as being "extremely rude, abusive and uncooperative" by a testing officer.

It was also claimed last year that Sun's mother "threatened the DCO (Doping Control Officer), claiming that she had police contacts".

Additionally, the report claims Sun's mother is the one who asked a security guard to bring a hammer into the doping control station, before directing him to destroy the blood samples.

Clearly there are conflicting stories about who was in the wrong - that's why WADA appealed the panel's original not-guilty decision and the case was sent to the CAS. But even if Sun is cleared again the reality is his reputation will never recover.


Although revered in China, held up as swimming's poster boy in the People's Republic, Sun hasn't always been in his country's good books.

In 2013 he was criticised for his conduct at a press conference and when his relationship with a flight attendant was made public, it reportedly sparked tension between Sun and his coaches, who believed he would be distracted.

The affair led to a fallout with his coach Zhu Zhigen, resulting in missed training sessions, and in November that year, Sun was caught driving without a licence after crashing his friend's Porsche into a bus. He was jailed for a week and fined approximately $1000.

Days later, the State General Administration of Sports announced it was temporarily banning Sun from any business-related activities, the national team swimming camp and any competitions, before the ban was lifted in 2014 on grounds of "good behaviour".


Clearly, Sun's three-month doping ban in 2014 only worsened his standing in the sport, but he wasn't helped by the Chinese Anti-Doping Authority  failing to disclose the suspension until after it had been completed.

Sun has a legitimate heart condition - it's what forced him to withdraw from the 1500m final at the 2015 world championships - and had he applied for a medical exemption it's likely he would have been able to test positive to trimetazidine out of competition.

But while he was reportedly unaware the substance was added to WADA's banned list, there's no doubting China made a conscious decision to cover up the matter until November - months after Sun's ban ended.

It was a decision that smeared his reputation and cast further doubt over the legality of his performances.

When he was banned, Sun had already won two Olympic gold medals and their legitimacy was - and still is, judging by what we've seen in South Korea - called into question.

Horton and Scott's actions have highlighted swimmers' frustration with FINA and it's not a good look that the organisation seems rather fond of Sun - and vice versa.

In 2016, after sharing a hug following his 200m gold medal swim, Sun said FINA's executive director, Cornel Marculescu, was "a very good friend of (the) Chinese swim team and he actually watched me like a grandfather. So I was very happy to see him see me win the gold. I hope this friendship will last".

Being so cosy with a governing body accused of being out of touch with the very sport it's in control of is hardly going to put you on people's Christmas card lists.

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