Sun Yang is widely known as the most successful Chinese swimmer in history with World, Asian, Olympic, and National Records tied to his name. Sun was born Dec. 1, 1991, and stands 6’6″ – he got the height from his father, who was a volleyball player.
Early career and Beijing Olympics
Sun began swimming at a young age, and rose to the international level in 2006, and made China’s World Championship Team, held in Melbourne, in 2007. But Sun’s first real breakout was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he was just 16 years old. He finished 28th in the 400m freestyle, and managed to slip into the final of the 1500m freestyle and finished eighth overall.
First international medal win
The following year Sun competed at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, where he won his first international medal with a bronze in the 1500m freestyle.
2010 Asian Games
At the 2010 Asian Games Sun had a major breakthrough, winning two gold medals in the 1500m freestyle and the 800m freestyle relay. His time in the 1500m race was the second-fastest time in history, but he also picked up two silver medals in the 200m freestyle and the 400m freestyle.
2011 World Championships
Sun won his first World Championship title in the 800m freestyle at the 2011 World Championships in Shaghai, but his next performance overshadowed his first win. Sun won the 1500m freestyle, breaking his first world record, and he also won a silver medal in the 400m freestyle and a bronze in the 800m freestyle relay.
Coach Denis Cotterell
Going into his second Olympic Games in London, Sun had broken a world record long held by Australia’s Grant Hackett. Ironically Sun decided to move to Australia and train under Hackett’s own coach, Denis Cotterell, which had a huge effect on his success in London.
2012 London Olympics
Sun won two golds in the 400m freestyle and 1500m freestyle in addition to a silver in the 200m freestyle when he broke his own world record again in the 1500m freestyle. He was the first since 1980 to win double-gold in the 400m and 1500m freestyle distances, and has been dominant in the distance events ever since.
He was also the first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. Sun even anchored the bronze-medal winning 800m freestyle relay, which was one of China’s first relay medals in swimming.
2013-2014 distance sweep
In 2013 Sun competed at the World Championships in Barcelona, becoming the first swimmer since Grant Hackett to sweep all three distance events at the Championships. He swam a seven-event lineup at the 2014 Chinese Nationals, even earning a bronze in the 100m freestyle, an event typically out of Sun’s sights.
He made headlines with a doping violation in 2014, testing positive for the stimulant, trimetazidine – Sun claims that the drug was taken for a heart condition. The drug was recently added to WADA’s banned substances list, and Sun proved with “sufficient evidence” that he did not intend to cheat, but the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency instead suspended Sun for three months for his failure to report to doping control (the traditional punishment is a two-year suspension).
Sun served his suspension before it was made public – just in time to win gold at the 2014 Asian Games and went on to win more gold medals in the 1500m, 400m and 200m freestyles at the Chinese Nationals.
Australia outs Sun after violation
Swimming Australia made the decision to cut ties with Sun, and tighten up regulations regarding foreign athletes that are training in Australia’s excellence training centers. Coach Cotterell was also forced to cut ties, but Sun was reportedly still training in Australia.
2015 World Championships
At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Sun was competing at one of his first meets back from his 2014 doping violation. Sun started the meet out strong competing in the 400-yard and 800-yard freestyles. Taking out the 400-free a bit slower than usual, Sun trailed GBR’s James Guy for a majority of the race. In a late surge, Sun finished first about one second ahead of Guy.
In the 800-meter free Sun once again picked up a gold medal, this time battling out Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri. Sun’s gold-medal win was the only swim under 7:40, and was also two seconds faster than his win in 2013. After his first two performances, Sun was a strong favorite in the 1500-meter freestyle. On the day of the race, he didn’t show up to the event, telling media that he was suffering a heart condition.
2016 Rio Olympics
Yang took the silver medal in the 400 meter freestyle on the opening night in the pool. He was beaten to the touch by Mack Horton of Australia who touched in 3:41.55 to Yang’s 3:41.68. After the race, Yang and Horton made Olympic headlines when Chinese swimming demanded an apology for remarks Horton made about Yang’s drug use. Horton said his win was “one for the good guys.” which sparked outrage in the Chinese camp. Horton and Swimming Australia refused to apologize.
Two days later in the 200 meter freestyle in Rio, Yang won gold in 1:44.65. At the halfway mark he turned in fifth but came back to chase down Chad Le Clos who went out like a rocket but couldn’t quite hold on.
His final swim in Rio was the 1,500 meter freestyle. Yang failed to get out the heats, finishing 16th.
2017 FINA World Championships
Yang won gold on day one of the 2017 World Championships in men’s 400m freestyle. At the 200m mark, Yang moved out front and never looked back. He had built an insurmountable lead by the 300m mark when he turned on his kick and buried the field, winning in 3:41.38. Yang’s rival, Australian Mack Horton, turned in the silver medal time of 3:43.85. Cameras picked up a visible glare from Yang in Horton’s direction, continuing to fuel their heated rivalry.
On day three Yang was back in action in the 200 meter freestyle where he again claimed the gold medal. He touched in 1:44.39 to break the Asian record. At the halfway point Yang was down in 6th position but stormed back in the final 100 to touch first.
He also swam in the 800 meter freestyle where he finished 5th in 7:48.87.
2018 Asian Games
At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Sun once again put up a fantastic performance, sweeping the 200-1500 and adding 2 silvers in the 4×100 and 4×200 free relays. Sun posted winning times of 1:45.43, 3:42.92, 7:48.36 (Games record), and 14:58.53.
2018 Short Course World Championships
In his home world championships, Sun opted only to swim on the 4×200 free relay, which proved a successful endeavor as it saw the country earn its only relay medal, a bronze.
2nd Doping Scandal
Sun Yang was under fire again in January of 2019 after an altercation with drug testers allegedly resulted in him and a member of his security detail smashing a sealed vial containing Sun’s blood. Sun nearly missed an out-of-competition doping test on September 4th last year. He made the testers wait outside of his home for almost an hour, and then challenged whether the officials were genuine testers from the IDTM. After breaking a number of testing protocols, which included urinating unaccompanied, Sun’s mother ordered security guards to destroy a vial of Sun’s blood taken in a nearby clubhouse, according to witnesses. The incident didn’t conclude until 4AM.
Dr. Ba Zhen, who supports Sun (and who like Sun has a history with doping), reportedly contacted Dr. Han Zhaoqi, the head of the Zhejiang Anti-Doping Center. Han is also the chief doctor (and Ba’s boss) at a hospital they both work at. Read the full report from the Daily Telegraph here.
2019 FINA World Championships
Yang started out his World Championships with Gold in the 400 Free, making it 4-for-4 straight World Titles for Sun in the event. There was controversy swarming his podium presentation as Mack Horton, who won silver behind Yang, protested by not stepping onto the podium during the medal presentation because of Yang’s doping history and scandal.
In his 2nd race of the meet, Yang competed in the 200 free, where he initially finished 2nd behind Danas Rapsys of Lithuania, but Rapsys was ultimately DQ’ed for a false start, rendering Yang the gold medalist in a time of 1:44.93. Again, there was controversy on the podium as bronze medalist Duncan Scott chose to stand aside for the medal ceremonies, causing Sun Yang to confront Scott after the podium in a rather aggressive manner.
On February 28, 2020, Sun Yang was handed an eight-year period of ineligibility, the maximum length, over an out-of-competition doping test gone awry in September of 2018 (see “2nd doping scandal”). Yang was found guilty of having tampered with the doping control process, despite his argument that testing personnel did not have proper credentials. “In particular, the panel found that the personnel in charge of the doping control complied with all applicable requirements as set out in the ISTI,” CAS said.
Following the announcement, the three-time Olympic champion released a full response on his Sina Weibo page. This statement comes after he told Xinhua News he was “definitely” going to be appealing the decision handed down by the Court of Abitration for Sport (CAS).