Olympic Games: China’s Sun Yang may drop pet event at Tokyo 2020 to pursue ‘grand slam’ of distance gold medals
The three-time Olympic gold medallist’s coach says two events may be too much for world record holder, who is also targeting the Hangzhou Asian Games
China’s three-time Olympic champion Sun Yang may sacrifice his pet event, the 1,500 metres freestyle, at the 2020 Tokyo Games to focus on winning an 800m gold and complete a “grand slam” of distance titles.
The 26-year-old also said he would try to surpass the Chinese record for Asian Games gold medals in 2022 in his hometown of Hangzhou. Sun is joint second with nine Asian Games gold medals, five short of the record held by legendary shooter Wang Yifu.
Last week, Sun’s coach Zhu Zhigen said with age and a persistent back injury, Sun may find it difficult to win golds in the 800m, which is making its Olympic debut, and the 1,500m, for which he is the world record holder.
“Sun Yang won the 1,500m at the Asian Games [in Jakarta] so it gave him a lot of confidence,” Zhi was quoted as saying. “But the Tokyo Olympics are two years later and in order to achieve the grand slam by winning the 800 metres, he may have to give up the 1,500m.
“To swim the 800m, it is necessary to use the energy reserves built up for the 1,500m.”
Sun won two gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, the 400m freestyle and 1,500m freestyle, setting a world record of 14:31.02 in the process. He won gold in the 200m freestyle four years later in Rio de Janeiro, but failed to defend his 400m title by finishing second to Australian Mack Horton in a bitter rivalry that involved a practise pool bust-up and a war of words.
Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” after the Chinese swimmer completed a three-month ban for testing positive for a stimulant.
Sun also failed dismally to repeat his 1,500m triumph and did not even make it into the final in Rio.
In Jakarta this year, Sun was the dominate male swimmer in the pool, winning gold in the men’s 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m.
He was hoping to surpass another Chinese shooter, Xu Haifeng, by winning five gold medals in Jarkata and taking sole possession of second place in the all-time list of mainland Asian Games winners with 10 golds.
However, Sun could only manager silver medals in the two relays he took part in and remains joint second with Xu on nine.
He needs six golds in Hangzhou to beat Wang’s record, which means he must win all his individual events and two relays – but he hopes swimming in front of home fans can help him achieve his goal.
“I will focus on finding out what my weaknesses are and working hard to improve on them,” Sun said recently in a ceremony at the Shanghai Institute of Physical Education, where he is pursuing a PhD.
“I hope to be able to surpass my [Asian Games gold medal] predecessors through hard work at home.”
Sun’s next major event is the 2019 world championship in Gwangju, South Korea.
The 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games is a personal dream for Sun. The swimmer made a special trip to Jakarta for the closing ceremony with many thinking he would be China’s flag bearer. But instead, he was asked to stand next to Alibaba chief Jack Ma to celebrate the passing of the Asian Games flag from Jakarta to Hangzhou.