2017 Swammy Awards Asian Male Swimmer of the Year: Sun Yang, China
Only two Asian men won a gold medal at this summer’s World Championships, and this year’s winner won a pair of them: China’s Sun Yang, winner of both the men’s 200 and 400 meter freestyles.
That included a new Asian Record in the 200 free of 1:44.39. While he appears to be all-but-done with the 1500 free that first rocketed him to global, and more importantly national, stardom when he broke Grant Hackett’s World Record in 2011, he’s reinvented himself as the best middle-distance swimmer in the world.
While his 200 free is only the 15th-best performance in history, it is the fastest since 2013 – the last time Yannick Agnel had a really great 200 free. Globally, a golden decade of the 200 free that began in Athens (Thorpe, van den Hoogenband, Phelps, Keller, Hackett, etc.) sort of ended at the 2013 World Championships, and Sun’s swim for Worlds is the best swim past that era. He’s been faster in the 400 on two occasions, but that race too is devoid of much challenge for him globally right now.
To address the elephant in the room:
Sun remains a controversial figure in swimming, thanks to a unusually-quiet 3-month doping ban in 2014 for the banned substance Trimetazidine – which he says he was prescribed for a heart condition.
Kosuke Hagino won this award in 2016, while Sun last won it in 2015.
(in no particular order)
- Ippei Watanabe, Japan – While he only took a bronze medal at the World Championships, Japan’s Ippei Watanabe opened the register on the year with a 200 breaststroke World Record on January 29th at the Kosuke Kitajima Cup. He swam a 2:06.69 to break the old record of 2:07.01 that had stood since 2012 and to become the first swimmer under 2:07 in the event. And he’s still only 20 years old.
- Xu Jiayu, China – Xu was Asia’s other gold medalist at the World Championships, winning the 100 backstroke gold in 52.44. That put him a fingernail ahead of Matt Grevers, who was resurgent in 2017, and Ryan Murphy, who swept the backstroke events at the 2016 Olympic Games.