Rising Sun stands tall with Chinese sport icons

Source:AFP Published: 2012-7-29 20:40:00

Sun Yang can stand tall alongside national sports heroes Liu Xiang and Yao Ming after becoming the first Chinese men's Olympic swimming champion on Saturday.

The 20-year-old had tears in his eyes after he surged home to win the 400m freestyle gold medal and dethrone South Korean Olympic defending champion Park Tae-hwan.

Sun is aleady the world champion and world record holder in the 1500m freestyle, but it was his breakthrough victory in the 400m event at the Olympic Games that will enshrine him among China's sporting greats.

He is at the vanguard of China's growing supremacy in the pool and underlined his development under Australian taskmaster Denis Cotterell, who molded Grant Hackett into an Olympic and world distance champion.

Sun went into the London Olympic Games as the world No.1 in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle and only four years ago he finished eighth behind Tunisian Oussama Mellouli in the Beijing 1500m final.

Last year Sun smashed Hackett's decade-old 1500m record at the world championships in Shanghai in 14 minutes and 34.14 seconds and was only 0.07 seconds off the world record in Saturday's 400m win.
Sun Yang reacts after winning the game on Saturday. Photo: AFP
Sun Yang reacts after winning the game on Saturday. Photo: AFP

"In the past, not only was I hoping I would be on the podium, the Chinese people did so too, so I was impatient to get on the podium," Sun said.

"Today, if I cry, it is because I have worked really hard in the last year, getting up early and training until late, so this makes it all worthwhile," he said.

"I felt I learned all the lessons from Shanghai."

"My coach is not well and will have surgery after we get back from these games, so it is also good to give him a boost and it was great for my family."

Sun toughened up under Cotterell's tutelage in Australia in the lead-up to the Olympics Games.

"It's not that difficult. Where a swimmer comes from doesn't matter. They all work hard and I want anyone I coach, wherever they come from, to have success," Cotterell said.

Sun now ranks along with hurdler Liu and basketball star Yao as sporting superstars in the world's most populous nation of 1.3 billion people.

China has closed the gap on the traditional swimming powers and finished second behind the US in the world championships medal table last year.

Park was reinstated to Saturday's final on appeal after being disqualified for a false start in winning his morning heat.

"I think if he (Park) hadn't come to the final and I had got the gold, I think the Korean media would have said it wasn't rewarding," Sun said. "When he was in the final, it was a good challenge for me."  

Posted in: Olympics

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