Late-surging Sunsweeps up third gold in Barcelona
Chinese star seals third world championships gold to be meet's top man
Sun Yang perched his imposing physique astride the lane rope and flexed one last time after winning his third gold medal at the world championships, confirming his status as the pre-eminent long-distance swimmer.
Sun unleashed a strong finish to power to victory in the 1,500-metre freestyle, adding to wins earlier last week in the 400 and 800 at the Palau Sant Jordi indoor pool.
When asked if this meant he was the "King of Freestyle", Sun said he was not keen to take on that moniker - as snazzy as it sounds.
Besides, the question was redundant.
Although the women - led by American teenagers Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky - made most of the waves with all six world records set by female swimmers, Sun won the official title as the meet's top male.
"This night is an amazing night for me in my swimming life," Sun said. "During the competition tonight I felt very tired. It's very hard to get these performances. [But] I have never had the feeling of being the King of Freestyle."
Never headed after the first lap in the 400 and 800, Sun's biggest challenge came on the competition's last day from Ryan Cochrane of Canada.
Cochrane went in front by the 250-metre mark and held a slender lead until Sun surged past him on the next-to-last lap to finish in 14 minutes and 41 seconds and win by 1.33 seconds.
"My training has not been so systematic, so it was a pretty tough race," Sun said.
"I really appreciated my opponent who pushed me, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make it. After all my races, I felt a bit fatigued. But I just tried to convince myself to stay with him because I knew that in the last 100 I had the advantage."
This was the fourth time Cochrane had taken silver behind Sun in the 800 and 1,500 at the worlds and Olympics.
"I think to race a guy who has gone 14:30 you know he will have the back-end speed, or speed at any stage of the race. So I knew I had to push the pace and get ahead, but it wasn't far enough," Cochrane said. "To have somebody that pushes the event is very positive, even though it can be frustrating to get second year after year. But it's exciting and invigorating for the event itself."
The 21-year-old Sun won the 800 and 1,500 at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, while claiming silver in the 400. He took gold in the 400 and 1,500 at the 2012 London Olympics, which does not include the 800 as an event.
Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy took the bronze this time, ahead of American pair Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom.
Jaeger described Sun as a "super friendly guy" and applauded his ability to save that extra energy for the end of the most gruelling pool race.
"That's what he's great at," Jaeger said. "He can go hard and he can still sprint at the end, and that's what you need in long races like this. It has paid off for him - and that's what Katie [Ledecky] does. So maybe it's something we need to learn."
McBroom, who captured silver behind Sun in the 800 last Wednesday, also applauded the character of the Chinese swimmer. "He doesn't speak a lot of English, but he's real friendly, real nice, and always wishes us good luck and says, 'Good job'. He's a great guy, a great racer and a great competitor," McBroom said.
When Sun emerged from the water after the 1,500 race, he turned to the Chinese fans in the stands, pounded his chest, pointed and gave them a bow.
"I must give thanks to my family, coach, and teammates. They give me a lot of support," he said.