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.”