Sun Yang May Be Breaking Up With The 1500 Free Again

At the time Chinese Olympic icon Sun Yang reunited with his past mentor Zhu Zhigen back in April of this year, his coach made it clear that his 26-year-old athlete would keep the 1500m free in his repertoire of events. “The 1,500 meters freestyle is a basic event for him,” Zhu said this past spring. “If he gives up this one and he will lose the rest of (the) events.”

Several months later, however, the pair is changing its tune, with Zhu now indicating that taking on the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m individual free events, in addition to relays, may be too much to ask of Sun in light of his age and recurring back injury.

Sun Yang won the 1,500m at the Asian Games [in Jakarta] so it gave him a lot of confidence,” Zhu told The South China Morning Post this week. “But the Tokyo Olympics are two years later and in order to achieve the grand slam by winning the 800 metres, he may have to give up the 1,500m.

“To swim the 800m, it is necessary to use the energy reserves built up for the 1,500m.”

Sun took double gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, winning the 400m, and 1500m freestyle events while nabbing silver in the 200m. That was followed by a shock no-show in the 1500m final at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Kazan due to heart trouble. In Rio, Sun settled for silver the 400m, won the 200m, but completely missed the 1500m Olympic final.

The 1500m was back on the table recently at the 2018 Asian Games, where Sun swept gold across the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m distances. He also clinched silver as a member of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay and bronze on the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

The Chinese dynamo isn’t the only one to reconsider the grueling freestyle ladder for the next Olympics. We also reported last April how Sun’s Australian freestyle rival Mack Horton is seriously considering dumping the 1500 in favor of the newly-added 800m free Olympic event.

“I think you know what’s happening to the 1500,” Horton told The Sydney Morning Herald in April this year after the Gold Coast-hosted Commonwealth Games. “I don’t know if it’s my last one but it’s on its way out. With the 800m being added into the Olympic program I was either going to have to go 200-400-800 or 400-800-1500.”

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Philip Johnson

It would be mighty impressive if on the men’s side we saw someone win the 200, 400, 800, and 1500. However, I think it’s almost impossible.


Be mighty impressive on either side!

Old Man Chalmers

What he’s saying is that it hasn’t been done on the men’s side yet. Katie Ledecky did it in 2015.

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo

I wonder if Ian Thorpe could have done it. He had won the 200, 400, and 800 free at worlds.

Bear drinks beer

Grant Hackett was closer to the achievement than Thorpe: 400/800/1500 gold and 200 silver (the gold went to Michael Phelps) at 2005 World Championships. I don’t think Thorpe has ever been under 15 minutes in 1500 free (Correct me if I’m wrong).
Sun Yang also had a chance at 2013 World Championships, where he dropped a 1:43 relay split, but he chose not to swim the individual event there. When he finally had the ambition to complete a sweep in 2015, his endurance had already declined. He lost his best and only opportunity.

Bear drinks beer

Off the topic, but I always wonder why it seems Thorpe is generally thought to be greater than Hackett. Hackett’s range is no less impressive:
1:45.61 200 free, 3:42.51 400 free, 7:38.65 800 free and 14:34.56 1500 free in the early 2000s!
He also stayed at top level for a longer period than Thorpe. He won a silver medal in 1500 free at 2008 Olympics at the age of 28, after a health issue, while Thorpe didn’t have any elite performance after 2004 Olympics (when he was only 22).


Where r they both it in Olympic & World Champ medals as well as World Records. That is usually the differentiator.

Bear drinks beer

Olympic medals:
Thorpe 5G 3S 1B (individually 3G 1S 1B). Hackett 3G 3S 1B (individually 2G 2S).

World Championships medals:
Thorpe 11G 1S 1B (individually 6G 1S 1B). Hackett 10G 6S 3B (individually 7G 6S 1B).

Not too much difference in my opinion. It just shows one of the disadvantages of being a distance swimmer is fewer relay medals.
Hackett didn’t break world records as many times as Thorpe though. That was because he improved the 1500 free WR by 7 seconds in 2001, making it too difficult for even himself to break.

Old Man Chalmers

Medal count. Thorpe has more olympic medals than hackett, which for most people, is the only point of comparison because they only watch the olympics.


Well all thorpe needed to do was to get more endurance and he wouldve won the 1500. Hackett could do all the training he wanted there was no way on earth he’d be 1:44.9 so he wouldver never won the 200.

Bear drinks beer

Thorpe won 800 free only once, that was at 2001 World Championships. There’s no way he would’ve won 1500 at the same meet, as Hackett swam 14:34 there.
Thorpe never broke (or even got close to) 15 minutes barrier in 1500 free. I can’t see how he would have built up his endurance to beat the distance swimmers.


Didn’t Hackett break the 200 free world record from a relay swim at one stage ?

Old Man Chalmers

He broke it when he went 1:46.67 at 1999 nationals, but his lifetime best is more than a second faster than that.


Sun Yang has the talent to do it if he wasn’t such a drama queen


I’m wondering if Katie Ledecky has same kind of thoughts. 200-400-800-1500 with all prelims and semis plus at least one relay duty are indeed titanic efforts.
Or she in contrast to her male counterparts doesn’t care and is thinking how to squeeze additional 400IM into her already very tight schedule. 😀


Chop the 1500, why would he swim that when he’s the best 200free swimmer in world.
200/400 free. One last hurrah and try break 3.40.
800 free …. again at what cost to the 200speed when’s he’s 28/29.
800 free if he wins, then 4 different individual events and first man to win it is appealing.


Personally, I think if he’s doing the work necessary to excel at the 400, he won’t really need to do too much special training to have a shot at the 800 so I doubt his 200 would be impacted. He’s good enough that he can just focus on the 200 and 400 and still be a major threat in the 800. Either way, he’s gonna be cranking out a ton of meters so he’ll have the fitness to be competitive. He might as well swim it IMO.


Evidence that the 800 is kind of a BS event – if you train for a 400, you can mail in the 800.


I don’t think just anyone can, but Sun Yang totally can. He’s one of the rangiest freestylers we’ve seen in a while.

Swimmer A

You can fake a breaststroke leg in a SCY 200 IM. You cannot however fake a distance event. It just doesn’t work.

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I don’t expect Sun to ever reach his personal best in the 400 again. In fact I would be very surprised. In 2012, he was in his prime at the age of 21. Agnel peaked when he was 19, Thorpe when he was 18. He was taking Trimetazidine he was taking at the time as well, which was fine since it didn’t become illegal till 2014. He should have taken an extra stroke at London, and he would be the first man under 3:40, and the world record holder.

Old Man Chalmers

If Thorpe took another stroke in 2002 he would be the first man under 3:40 and Biedermann wouldn’t have broken the WR.

Caeleb Dressel Will Get 9 Golds in Tokyo

He said he held back at the end to save for a relay. Aint that a shame?

Old Man Chalmers

Aint it a shame Sun Yang glided in London?

About Loretta Race

Loretta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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