A row involving China’s swimming superstar Sun Yang and an air hostess has given the Chinese a turbulent buildup to the world championships in Barcelona, Spain.
The swimming section of the world aquatic championships starts on Sunday with Sun spearheading China’s bid to dethrone the US’ swimming supremacy at the top of the medals table.
Sun, 21, led his country to their best-ever Olympic performance in London last year, snaring two gold medals and smashing his own 1,500m freestyle world record as China finished with five titles.
Along with teen phenom Ye Shiwen, beset by doping innuendo as she claimed two individual medley golds, China cemented their new position as the world’s No. 2 team behind the US, but a falling-out between Sun and his coach over his love affair with a stewardess has rocked the Asian swimming power.
Sun, the tall distance specialist from Zhejiang, rejected coach Zhu Zhigen’s demand that he stop seeing his new girlfriend and concentrate on his swimming instead. Despite a public show of reconciliation with Zhu, Sun has been training in Hong Kong under former Chinese head coach Zhang Yadong and it is unclear which events he plans to contest in Barcelona.
“Athletes want to get good results, and to do that you need systematic and scientific training without outside interference,” Sun said on his official microblog. “I was not able to do this in the past for various reasons and have been making up ground through my own efforts. With the world championships approaching, I want to eliminate outside interference and prepare well, to give me added strength.”
Sun became the leading light of Chinese swimming when he tore up Grant Hackett’s 10-year-old 1,500m record at the 2011 Shanghai world championships — a mark he lowered again at the Olympics.
Sun also claimed the 800m world title in Shanghai, but Chinese officials were unsure whether he will defend it this month — or swim any events at all — after he only signed up for the 1,500m and 400m freestyle.
While attention will focus on Sun, 17-year-old Ye will also be in the spotlight as she tries to defend her 200m individual medley world title and again deflect the speculation that accompanied her feats at the London Games.
Ye, then 16, raised eyebrows when she obliterated the 400m medley world record with a sensational freestyle lap, timing faster over the final leg than men’s winner Ryan Lochte a few races earlier.
“I was very depressed and angry after London, but everything is fine now,” she told Britain’s Independent last month. “It is a long journey. Different people have their different views, but I will just keep on going.”