Photo: JD Lasica from Pleasanton, CA, US / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Born: December 1, 1991
Age: 28 years
Born Place: Hangzhou, China
Olympic medals: Swimming at the 2012 Summer Olympics – Men’s 4 × 200 metre freestyle relay
Height: 2.00 m (6 ft 7 in)
Sun Yang (Chinese: 孙杨; Mandarin pronunciation: born 1 December 1991) is a Chinese Olympic and world-record-holding competitive swimmer. In 2012, Sun became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. Sun is the first male swimmer in history to earn Olympic and World Championship gold medals at every freestyle distance between 200 and 1500 metres. A three-time Olympic gold medallist and eleven-time world champion, he is the most decorated Chinese swimmer in history. In 2017, NBC Sports described him as “arguably the greatest freestyle swimmer of all time”.
Sun competed for China at the 2008 Summer Olympics. In 2010, he won the 1500 metre freestyle at the Asian Games, setting a new Asian record. At the 2011 World Championships, he beat the 1500 metre freestyle world record, which was previously held by Grant Hackett in 2001 and the longest-held world record in swimming at the time. Sun won gold medals in the 400 and 1500 metre freestyle at the 2012 Summer Olympics. At the 2013 World Championships, he became the second swimmer, after Hackett, to win gold medals in all three long distance freestyle events (400, 800, and 1500 metres) in a single World Championship.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Sun won a gold medal in the 200 metre freestyle and a silver medal in the 400 metre freestyle. By winning the 200 metre freestyle, he became the first swimmer in history to win Olympic gold medals in the 200, 400, and 1500 metre freestyle events. At the 2017 World Championships, he won his first world title in the 200 metre freestyle, setting a new Asian record. He won his third consecutive title in the 400 metre freestyle, the second swimmer to do so after Ian Thorpe in 2003. In 2018, Sun won gold medals in every freestyle event (200, 400, 800, and 1500 metres) at the Asian Games, as well as silver medals in two relay events. In 2019, he successfully defended his titles in the 200 and 400 metre freestyle events at the World Championships. As of 2020, Sun Yang’s 1500 metre world record remains the only Men’s Individual Freestyle long course world record achieved without the use of the high-tech swimwear that controversially dominated swimming victories and records in the 2008-09 seasons.
In May 2014, Sun was banned for three months by the Chinese Swimming Association (CSA) after he tested positive for trimetazidine, a drug that was banned only four months earlier and classified as a banned stimulant at the time by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). He said that a doctor prescribed the drug to him to treat heart palpitations, a condition he has suffered since 2008. WADA, after reviewing the full case file, announced that they would not challenge the CSA’s decision to impose a three-month sanction. Since Sun’s ban, WADA has reclassified trimetazidine from an S6 stimulant (prohibited in competition) to an S4 hormone and metabolic modulator (prohibited in and out of competition).
In September 2018, Sun was involved in an incident during an out-of-competition anti-doping test at his home, during which he and his staff smashed open a container of blood sample vials with a hammer because he had believed that the testing personnel did not have proper credentials. Following an investigation, the international governing body for swimming, FINA, concluded that Sun did not commit an anti-doping rule violation. WADA disagreed with FINA’s decision and lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which accepted the case and held a public hearing in November 2019. On 28 February 2020, CAS delivered its findings, overturning FINA’s decision and banning Sun for eight years for tampering with the doping control process. The CAS clarified that Sun (the Athlete) would not be stripped of any of his medals because “doping tests performed on the Athlete shortly before and after the aborted doping control in September 2018 were negative” and “in the absence of any evidence that the Athlete may have engaged in doping activity since 4 September 2018, including on the occasion of the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea in July 2019, the results achieved by the Athlete in the period prior to the CAS award being issued should not be disqualified.”
Sun was born on 1 December 1991 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. He was named after his parents’ surnames. Sun is an only child, and his family is athletic. His father, Sun Quanhong (孙全洪), was a basketball player for Anhui Tigong and is also tall. His mother, Yang Ming (杨明), was a volleyball player for Zhejiang and is a sports coach. Sun started swimming in 1998, and his potential was recognised by a teacher at Jinglun Sports School in Hangzhou.
Sun made his international debut at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. He finished 32nd in the 400 metre freestyle and 23rd in the 800 metre freestyle. In early 2008, he competed at the “Good Luck Beijing” China Open, a test event for the 2008 Summer Olympics. He finished 2nd in the 400 metre freestyle with a time of 3:49. At the Olympics, Sun, aged 16, finished 28th in the 400 metre freestyle, unable to reach the final. He later came 7th in the qualifying heats of the 1500 metre freestyle, reaching the final, where he finished last. Sun rebounded the following year at the 2009 World Championships, where he won his first international medal, a bronze, in the 1500 metre freestyle with a time of 14:46. He finished 18th in the 400 metre freestyle with a time of 3:47.
Sun achieved further success during the 2010 Asian Games. He won gold medals in the 1500 metre freestyle and the 4 × 200 metre freestyle relay, and silver medals in the 200 metre and 400 metre freestyle. His 1500-metre freestyle time of 14:35.43 was a new Asian record and the second-fastest time in history, behind Grant Hackett, whose record Sun would surpass the following year. Sun was subsequently named Rookie of the Year at the 2010 China Central Television (CCTV) Sports Awards.
On the first day of competition at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, Sun came 2nd in the 400 metre freestyle with a time of 3:43.24, 1.2 seconds behind South Korean Park Tae-hwan. Three days later, Sun won his first World Championship title in the 800 metre freestyle with a time of 7:38.57. After a day of rest, he swam the anchor leg in the 4 × 200 metre freestyle relay, helping the Chinese team win bronze. The last day of competition, Sun competed in the 1500 metre freestyle. He won the race with a time of 14:34.14, ten seconds ahead of the rest of the competition. At age 19, Sun beat Hackett’s world record of 14:34.56, which had stood for ten years. This was the longest-held world record in swimming and the only men’s swimming world record not to have been beaten during the techsuit era.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
As of 2019, Sun has received the following awards:
- Swimming World World Swimmer of the Year Award: 2013
- Swimming World Pacific Rim Swimmer of the Year Award: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018
- SwimSwam Swammy Awards “Asian Male Swimmer of the Year” Award: 2017
- FINA “Outstanding Contribution to Swimming Popularity in China” Award: 2017
- FINA World Championships “Best Male Swimmer” Award: 2013, 2015
- China Laureus “Best Male Athlete” Award: 2011, 2017
- China Laureus “Most Popular Male Athlete” Award: 2017
- CCTV Sports Awards “Best Male Athlete” Award: 2011, 2012
- CCTV Sports Awards “Rookie of the Year” Award: 2010
- Zhejiang Province “Best Male Athlete of the Year” Award: 2016