Playful banter or rollicking trash talk? Sun Yang ramps up rivalry with TV commercials directed at Park Tae-Hwan

With about a week to go until the start of the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, perhaps the biggest rivalry of the meet is already heating up.

Double Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang sparked the showdown this week with a series of television commercials in which he directly addresses his rival, South Korea’s first-ever Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Park Tae-hwan.

Depending on how you view them, the videos could range from good-natured ribbing to somewhat cocky trash talk. That seems like a purposeful balance by the commercial producers, who combine in-your-face dialogues with humorous settings – for example, in one spot, Sun challenges Park to retake an Asian record (“Athlete Park, you set a new record at the last Asian Games, but I already broke the record. So, can you challenge my record at the Incheon Asian Games?” he says, according to GlobalPost) while clip-clopping around the deck in flippers:

In another, Sun makes a crack at Park’s Korean stardom – Park is such a big hero in his homeland that the brand-new pool hosting the Asian Games is named after him – before jumping into the pool wearing children’s pool floaties:

Sun’s dialogue: “I know the Swimming Stadium is even named after you…So what?” according to Tribe, who posted the videos on YouTube.

While floating on circular pool toys, Sun also takes time to credit his rival’s stardom, though he rolls it into a joke, following his effusive praise with a smile and the line “Don’t let me win too easily.”

Probably the most openly humorous is Sun’s “Let’s make a bet” spot, which features underwater footage of Sun swimming with a garbled audio track that sounds like Sun is talking underwater. Sun asks Park which of the two swimmers is more handsome before offering a bet – not about good-looks, but about who will perform better in Incheon.

“Do you think you’re more handsome or I’m more handsome?” Sun says, according to Tribe.

The commercials are sponsored by 361 Degrees, a Chinese sporting goods business whose logo appears at the end of each TV spot alongside the Asian Games mural.

Sun is of course coming off a tumultuous year in which he changed coaches and dealt with a major suspension for driving and crashing his car without a driver’s license. He wasn’t at his best at Chinese Nationals, but still qualified for the Asian Games team for the opportunity to take on Park in his home country.

It’s especially hard to fully grasp the tone of the TV ads without understanding the language (Sun uses a mix of Chinese and some Korean). It appears Sun is keeping the rivalry in good fun, but he also hasn’t been afraid to express his confidence about the upcoming matchups with Park. Reuters recently quoted Sun as saying the following in the lead-up to Incheon:

“I’ll only be up against Park in the 200m and 400m. He’s not an opponent in the 1,500m,” Sun said.

“Actually there’s no fight to the finish with Park. The Asian 200m and 400m records are originally mine, I believe he also knows that.

“My speed in the last two years is a lot faster. Four years ago at Guangzhou, I didn’t have the power. I was only a bit slower than him in competition and was a very big threat.

“Now, I’ve had four years of hard training, I’ll definitely be better than him.”

That 1500 remark is probably more factual than cocky, as Park specializes in the 200 and 400 frees and has recently branched out into the IM races, not so much the mile. Sun, though, still has to prove he’s back from his layoff and the distraction-filled year. Without a doubt, the Sun-Park matchups in Incheon are shaping up to be among the most intriguing battles of this year’s Asian Games.

The swimming portion of the Asian Games begins next Sunday, September 21st, and runs six days through Friday, September 26th. Stay tuned to SwimSwam for full coverage of all the swimming action.

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I work with Chinese immigrants to the US daily on my job, and I can tell you that disrespectful people are not tolerated, never mind liked, in the Chinese culture, so there is no doubt in my mind that these commercials are meant to be humorous; however, with the long history of political friction between China and Korea, I also have no doubt both countries will be delighted if their big star wins! China obviously has many more swimming stars, so it’s kind of like Michael Phelps issuing a challenge on TV to Milorod Cavic from Serbia and not very threatening. Now, if he made the same threat, joking or not, to Kosuke Hagino from Japan……suddenly we’d have to put… Read more »


I hope Park beats Sun like he stole something and drops him like a hot potato.


As bad and shameful as this may be to Chinese swimming, I enjoy seeing heated rivalries develop. It would be nice to see Park win against Sun in at least one of the two but Yang’s confidence seems to be overwhelming. Please post if Park responds to this “playful banter”, but hopefully he is classy enough to save it for the pool.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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