Swimming star Sun Yang treading fine line in the eyes of the public

By Mark Dreyer Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-2 0:28:01

China can't decide whether swimming star Sun Yang is in the doghouse or not.

Sun spent a week in detention last month after ­being caught driving without a ­license. He didn't make many friends on the inside after insisting on a vegetarian diet to avoid the risk of eating contaminated meat: Prison rules dictate that all inmates must eat the same meals.

There was talk at the time that Sun might be banned from competition for more than a year, but Shang Xiutang, ­deputy head of the Chinese Swimming Administrative Center, now says he could resume training "soon."

This should come as no surprise. Sun is the best swimmer China has ever produced, and having just celebrated his 22nd birthday, still has his best years to come, a frightening thought given that he has already won two Olympic and five World Championship gold medals.

There was no way China's swimming authorities would keep Sun out in the cold for too long, especially with next year's Asian Games coming into view, and Sun appears to be getting special treatment, though not always in a good way.

Sun's performance in Barcelona this summer, where he became the second man in history to win the 400 meters, 800 meters and 1,500 meters freestyle titles at a single World Championships, and also won bronze for the Chinese 4x200 meters freestyle relay team with an incredible anchor leg arguably translated into Sun's best-ever season. Having won the CCTV Best Male Athlete Award in both 2011 and 2012, you would think it would be a no-brainer for Sun to at least be on the shortlist for 2013, right?

Wrong. With professionalism valued over performance, Sun wasn't deemed worthy of making the cut, which contained a staggering 146 names. Somehow, though, Olympic table tennis champion Zhang Jike, who has a history of run-ins with coaches and officials, and speed skater Wang Meng, who once punched her team manager in a drunken brawl, both made the list.

Perhaps their inclusion is a sign that reformed behavior will be rewarded, but for now Sun is treading a fine line.

Li Na carved out a niche as a popular rebel after breaking free of the State-run sports system. Sun has had parallel clashes with authority, but his behavior looks more like that of a spoilt child. He is in danger of losing public support and if that happens, the road ahead may not be quite so ­enjoyable.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer. dreyermark@gmail.com

Posted in: Extra Time

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