World Record Holder Sun Yang Was Banned After Positive Doping Test

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang was banned for three months this summer, beginning on May 17th, 2014, after a positive test for the substance Trimetazidine, FINA announced this morning.

Sun tested positive for the specified stimulant at the Chinese National Championships and was quietly given a three-month suspension that was expired in time for him to compete and win gold in the 400 and 1500 meter individual freestyles, and the 400 free relay at the Asian Games in late September.

In addition, the Chinese Swimming Association suspended Sun’s doctor, Ba Zhen, for one year.

Trimetazidine is a prescription drug used to treat angina, or plaque buildup in the arteries; and in some countries to treat ringing in the ears and dizziness. It was only added to the WADA banned list in January of 2014.

As a World Anti-Doping Code “specified substance,” Sun was given the opportunity to establish how the substance entered his body and that it was not intended to enhance his sport performance. According to CHINADA deputy director Zhao Jia, Sun “proved with sufficient evidence that he did not intend to cheat…but his failure to inform the doping control official should be punished all the same.”’

Sun is the current World Record holder in the men’s 1500 meter freestyle and won four medals (including two golds) at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Updated with comment from CHINADA deputy director.

In This Story


  1. monsterbashet says:


  2. bad says:

    Well…some are more equal than the others.

  3. newswim says:

    I assume this hearing was held by the Chinese Anti-doping Association some six months ago. This is a big blow to the credibility of CHINADA in my opinion. I don’t necessarily disagree with the three month suspension, there is plenty of precedent if the defendant can present legitimate medical reasons, but the lack of transparency is the problem.

    • Braden Keith says:

      newswim – I wouldn’t necessarily assume that. These types of proceedings frequently take a long time after all appeals are heard, that’s not limited to China.

      • newswim says:

        Perhaps but this article suggests it was case back log and procedural issues that caused the “delay” announcement. This all might be true but it doesn’t help China or Sun’s image.

        • FAIRSWIM says:

          I am not a fan of Sun Yang, who is an enormous talent but sadly has shown his lack of carefulness and discipline in numerous well-documented cases. Same (or worse) can be said to Michael, who I am a huge fan of. Nevertheless, to see the bigotry and ignorance by some of comments every time these kinds of story come out, is mind-boggling and unfortunate. newswim – with all due respect, what does CHINADA stand for?

          • newswim says:

            Chinese Anti-Doping Association…..CHINADA is the commonly used acronym. Similar to USADA for USA Anti-Doping Association.

          • FAIRSWIM says:

            newswim- Thanks for the education. As you can see I am not the expert in the field, Even though I disagree with some of your extension of blame, I do appreciate your fact-based reasoning, and respect your opinion, As opposed to some of the other absurd one-line comment, which always come out with stories like this, link them to communism or nationality.

          • jman says:

            Where is the bigotry in his statement? You are the one who admitted not liking an Asian swimmer who has done less egregious things than European descent Phelps. You need to use those words much more selectively.

          • FAIRSWIM says:

            jaman – please calm down and read my posts carefully. My points are exactly that Sun and Phelps have had some very similar behaviors (with Phelps might even being on worse side), they should be treated fairly and similarly even though most of the readers on this site, including me, are Phelps fans. I have nothing but good things to say about Bobo, Braden and Newswim about their rational comments/replies even though I respectfully disagreed with newswim’s questioning of China Swimming in this case, again based on Michael reference. I am becoming not a fan of Sun Yang for several reasons, that is a big difference from ‘not liking’ him or ‘not liking an Asian Swimmer’ in your quote. My problem was toward the sentiment two lines beyond your comment that jumping to some their self-perceived nations nation or society at every opportunities, and frankly I don’t appreciate your comprehension of the point views and quick disposal ‘descent’ reference either. Again, both young men are enormous talent who worked extremely hard to be the best of what they are doing, yet unfortunately both of them have some serious discipline flows that are hurting them badly. End of of story, nothing to to with ‘descent’, nothing to do with nation or society they are in. .

    • Chao says:

      It was never held. He was tested positive positive in an internal Chinese game, and then Chinese Swimming Association, a governmental bureau suspended him immediately. The news was popular on Chinese internet at that time. Then three months later, he proved himself innocent. The Swimming Association made a formal statement on Chinese national channel for this case. I remembered this very clear several years ago. I’m Chinese btw.
      I’m not even a fan of swimming games, i believe most people who keep tweeting on Internet just like me, feel this is king of a bully for Sun. Because i remember the time that when Sun was in suspension, Chinese social media and new letter has lots of negative comment on him, I believe that was his worst time in his life. That’s also why several months later, Swimming Association made a very formal statement on TV. Most people felt very unfair for Sun at that time because his didn’t know the effect of the heart medicine that he took, and as an Olympic champion, he had no need to dope himself for a small Chinese internal game.
      Most Chinese tweets online which are angry about Horton is because he is rude. And he already won, if he showed the elegance of being a winner every Chinese would be happy for him. But Horton bullied Sun by poking his most weak button. Everyone has the worst time in their life. and most Australian media even don’t want to hear and report the whole story. This is for sure racism when it comes to Chinese, they don’t even give people chance to debate for themselves.

      • Kacee says:

        Mack Horton did not mention his name, he did not mention anyone’s name. What made him think it was aimed at him?

  4. pb&j says:

    i am really surprised

  5. yoloswag420 says:

    What a surprise a swimmer from a communist nation tests positive for a banned substance

  6. liquidassets says:

    This is an odd choice for medication; it’s not used much just for ear symptoms anymore so I wonder if it means he has a chronic cardiac condition? Otherwise it sounds suspicious.

    • Zhen says:

      According to the news report, he has been using the prescribed medicine since 2008 due to his heart problem.

    • liquidassets says:

      That might be a potentially serious and chronic disorder, then. I’m curious to see how he will do without the significant performance enhancement from the stimulant, and wondering which, if any, medication he will take now instead, unless his condition has resolved. You can’t take away his records, obviously, since it was legal when he set them. But it will likely make his records harder to break.

      • Zhen says:

        My understanding is that it’s still legal to take the medicine out-of-competition. It’s class S6 so only banned in competition. He could even file a petition to take it in competition through his doctor.

  7. joe momma says:

    I hope that his use of the drug was just a pathetic attempt to game the system, and not indicative of something more serious health wise.

  8. Var says:

    So this stuff was Legal in January and Sun was supposed to have it in his system in April.

    This is really not as significant as it appears.

    • newswim says:

      Yes, it was added in January because of “emerging patterns of drug use” how does that make it less serious? BTW, the Winter Olympics had a number of positive tests for trimetazidine usually associated with use of Preductal by cross country skiers and cyclists. So its not like its a secret.

      I take CHINADA 3 month penalty for Sun and 1 year for his doctor as indication that the doctor should have known better given the clear WADA bulletin issued in January where it was banned

  9. SprintDude9000 says:

    Let’s hope it’s a poor attempt to cheat and not something serious. In the meantime, I’ll leave this here:

  10. Philip Johnson says:

    In my opinion, I don’t think this is too serious and this could be equated to Phelps smoking pot. Nothing like Yefimova or the other Russian steroid cases. With that being said, I know very little about this drug. I’m still disappointed though.

    • Satchmo says:

      “Retrospective data mining regarding doping control analyses conducted between 1999 and 2013 at the Cologne Doping Control Laboratory concerning trimetazidine revealed a considerable prevalence of the drug particularly in endurance and strength sports accounting for up to 39 findings per year.”

      You’ve already seen positives from this stimulant in other endurance sports like cross-country skiing and cycling. Surely the performance effects must be equated as the same as smoking pot! Cause it’s not like corss-country skiing or cycling athletes have a history of taking substances that might boost performance….

      • KP says:

        Pot and Trimetazidine are both not legal for athletes to be using, for different reasons. But I hope folks realize that pot is anything BUT a performance enhancing drug! A stimulant like Trimetazidine does sound very suspicious, and 3 months does sound like a slap on the wrist.

      • Philip Johnson says:

        Thanks for the info, I retract my statement.

    • Peter Davis says:

      Apparently the drug helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently.

      There have been between 3-400 cases uncovered since 1999 in predominantly endurance athletes. It wasn’t banned until this year.

      There is speculation that this drug is tied to a cocktail used alongside blood doping aka concentrating red blood cell count <— they sure sound like they'd go well together, and China has had World Championship medal winners banned for blood doping in the last few years, in swimming! But we hear that a lot when new drugs come out, before we know their true strengths and weaknesses – tri lists tremors and Parkinson's like rigidity as two of its most common side effects. No thanks Jeff.

      For example, clenbuterol…we forgave the first few tests in the sport as derived from tainted supps/meat. Slashed their suspensions. But it ends up clen is a very popular wonder drug in the bodybuilding/football/track communities, is available at half the gyms in America, and there is little chance that clen users just weren't outright cheaters. Very little chance.

      This year, the first few trimetazidine suspensions were shortened because of suspicions of tainted supplements. I'd bet my bottom dollar that in the coming months/years we find out that no, they were just the first of a huge wave of users who the testing agencies caught up with(3-400 cases already). On to the next currently untested drug!…but not before a measly 3 month unannounced ban that doesn't affect competition schedule.

      And we should remember the context in which we are judging the Yangs and the Phelps – swimming. If they get DUIs or have public arguments or drive wo a license then they are doofuses and lose respect. If they cheat in swimming, they are dead to us. If they smoke pot….maybe they are just more normal than we thought?

      • Satchmo says:

        great post. Agree with your views on clenbuterol as well. unfortunately, USA swimming gives clen users perseverance awards instead..

    • Justin Thompson says:

      Come on man, the GOAT has had a rough go of it lately without you bringing up that old news 🙂

  11. bobo gigi says:

    Unfair or not, his performances will be regarded now with some suspicion by a lot of people.
    Either he’s a cheater (is that “tri something” a masking product?) or he’s not very careful.
    Track star Allyson Felix said last year she was obsessed with everything she eats, drunks or swallows overall and that she didn’t even take vitamin c. Take zero risk when you don’t know.

    • Steve Nolan says:

      Yeah, Marion Jones said she didn’t take anything, either. And Lance and every other athlete in the history of all time (except Jose Canseco – who shoots off his own fingers).

    • FAIRSWIM says:

      Bobo, I think you are having a fair statement and very legitimate point. For anybody who knows something about Sun Yang: he was caught for driving without the license and suspended for several months, then had some weird dating stories and got into argument with his coach, now he got into ‘illegal substance’ issue.. Sounds familiar? t is real sad to see these athletes who can devote so much to develop their skills and abilities to be the best in the world, yet can’t do the normal things an average human being can/should do. As a fan of the sorts, I wish them the best of luck.

      • Catherine says:

        These are unfair comments. If you had bothered to look it up, the “weird dating stories” and argument with his coach stemmed from the fact that his coach thought the girlfriend was a distraction. Apparently the coach wanted tighter control over Sun Yang’s personal life and who wouldn’t argue about that? It shows backbone, not moral turpitude, as your post seems to imply.

        The illegal substance issue is a huge red flag, and certainly is disappointing news, but why muddy this real issue with rumors and innuendo?

  12. pol says:

    Interesting…… I know the Chinese federation is trying to clean their system/program. Now this is a big blow for Team China.

  13. Rj says:


    I’ll allow it.

  14. Sonwik says:

    Does anyone know one web page where I can find results from all of these meet written about at swim swam? I used the results from swimmingworld before, but they are not updating their “International results” page.

  15. aswimfan says:

    Well Well Well..

    I’m so disappointed.

    Sun Yang, I’m no longer a fan of yours.

  16. hswimmer says:

    I’m sure he’s done this for a while, they should take all of his records away!

  17. RanyDany says:

    Meantime the silver medalist for the 1500m, Ryan Cochrane from Canada, has had a 10 year illustrious and clean swimming career. You wonder…

  18. I had no idea until I saw it on BBC News today.

  19. Gina Rhinestone says:

    Boring . Nothing compares to footage of Ma’s Army where 20 ultra skinny ladies were running , running , running behind Ma on his motorbike until they fell down , one by one. That was training at its scientific best .

    I miss those days .

  20. M Palota says:

    Not good and, I hate to say it, very suspicious. I find it difficult to believe an athlete with Sun’s profile would have a doctor that didn’t know which meds were on the banned list.

  21. tomr says:

    Shiwen Ye…..anybody?

    • Philip Johnson says:

      Geez I hope not, but wouldn’t be surprised. I until today thought Sun was clean as a whistle. I’ve had thoughts about Ye in the back of my head but innocent till proven guilty.

    • aswimfan says:

      Until she tests positive.. No, otherwise we’d have to suspect every swimmer with great performances. And I will be the first to condemn Shiwen when that happens.

      • Sven says:

        Exactly. Every world class swimmer is suspect, from Michael Phelps to Yannick Agnel, to Shiwen Ye. None of that matters, though, until a positive test occurs.

  22. aswimfan says:

    So the past two men’s 1500 free Olympics champions have tested positive to banned substances.

    This makes Grant Hackett’s achievements more legendary and greater, if that is even possible. Hackett swam in Athens with partially collapsed lungs, and while swiming in Beijing with lingering effect of Stillnox against a cheater.

    • newswim says:

      I would not put Adderdall, a common medication used by college students to enhance concentration in preparation for exams, as clenbuterol or trimetazidine….accuse me of splitting hairs but in my opinion there is quite a difference. This is no way to diminish my admiration of Hackett who was a great competitor.

  23. carlo says:

    there are so many banned substances that it,s hard for the athletes to keep up. the stuff sun yangtested positive for was just added to the list in january this year. Heck even the great footballer diego maradona tested positive for cocaine and was banned for some time even if cocaine is not a performance enhancer. it would be like banning phelps for testing positive to pot.

  24. carlo says:

    and if an athlete has a medical problem, how on earth is that athlete supposed to manage his-her condition without medication. it seems every medication has a substance that is banned or if it is not banned now will be banned in the future. I find it odd that sun yang tested positive despite his paranoia about testing positive. when he was sent to jail by the chinese authorities for driving without a licence,he refused to eat any of the food that was served to him in jail for fear of some substance making it,s way into the food chain. The other conspiracy theory is that maybe the chinese authorities are trying to set him up for his rebellion. who knows.

    • beachmouse says:

      An entire section of the WADA rulebook is devoted to ‘Therapeutic Use Exceptions’ (commonly abbreviated to TUE) which describes the process of how some drugs on the general banned substance list can still be taken by athletes if they have a medical condition requiring their use.

      I want to say asthma medications are one of the more common TUE drugs for swimmers.

    • Eric McGinnis says:

      If an athlete has a medical condition which requires medication that contains an otherwise banned substance, they fill out something called a Therapeutic Use Exemption form. It allows the athlete to take their prescription without being flagged for a positive test. Any athlete competing on the international level would be informed of this process.

    • Peter Davis says:

      I love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy and I like your second one, the ‘other conspiracy.’

      If I was a megalomaniacal swimming bureaucrat who found myself in charge of Chinese swimming and I wanted to flex my power over the swimmers aka ‘the help,’ I would definitely start by: setting up my stars to fail a drug test, threatening a 2 year ban or even expulsion and the withholding of funding, and then quietly banning them 3 months, thereby asserting my authority to both punish and remove punishment from(reward) them. I also wouldn’t think twice about telling a coach to force one of their athletes to stop dating romantically, as it would distract them from my goals. Perhaps I would disallow them from holding their own passports when traveling or even keep them from acquiring driver’s licenses or even driving lessons. If they were to get caught driving, I would imprison them without food to impress upon them my desire to be a total dick. Lastly, I would ban dentists.

      Holy crap. It. is. all. TRUE.

    • Michael says:

      This is what I suspect. And that’s why various Chinese media are so furious about the in transparency of the happening this time. Maybe they have also sensed something unusual about the authority underhandedness through which it wants to give Sun a lesson

  25. Justin Thompson says:

    Now that he was caught time will tell if he had been doing this for a while by the quality of his future performances. His times have been considerably slower the past couple of years which could have been a post Olympic lack of motivation, but with Worlds and the Olympics coming up we’ll see if he gets anywhere close to his best times.

    I would like to see how many times and how often he gets tested. We hear about how much the American swimmers are tested, so you would think the same data would be available from other nations?

    I keep thinking back to those Asian Games commercials he shot this summer and how obnoxious he was calling out Park all the while knowing he was just coming off of a suspension. The guy has stones, that is for sure.

  26. carlo says:

    there are so many banned substances that it,s hard for athletes to keep up.almost all medications have a banned substance or sunstances that will soon be banned.The stuff sun yang tested positive for was just banned in january this year. It seems athletes cant take any medication so if you,re an athlete and you have a condition,just forget about your dreams.I find it odd than sun yang tested positive despite his paranoia about testing positive.when he was sent to jail by the chinese authorities for driving without a licence he refused to eat the food there for fear of an illegal substance getting into the food chain. i think he was afraid of clenbuterol since that substance is a menace in china,s foodchain.

    • KP says:

      I don’t think it’s as extreme as “giving up on your dreams”. If you need to take a medication, you check first with doping authorities .If the authorities gave you permission, it would be in the records. Hopefully they would contact the athlete/coach (esp. at Sun Yang’s level) if they later decide to ban that. If not, I guess coaches and athletes need to check updates of the banned drug list periodically. If you have to go to the E.R. in an emergency and they give you something iffy, you immediately contact doping authorities and build your case for emergency/temporary use.

      I’m still nervous about Ye swimming the last lap of the 400IM at Lochte speed, and L Z in the womens 200 fly WR, even with the rubber suit in that particular race. I don’t think that swimmer ever came close to an equivalent textile time. Remember, I said nervous. Innocent until caught.

  27. carlo says:

    there are so many banned substances that it,s hard for athletes to keep up.almost all medications have a banned substance or sunstances that will soon be banned.The stuff sun yang tested positive for was just banned in january this year. It seems athletes cant take any medication so if you,re an athlete and you have a condition,just forget about your dreams about competing at the highest level. I find it odd than sun yang tested positive despite his paranoia about testing positive.when he was sent to jail by the chinese authorities for driving without a licence he refused to eat the food there for fear of an illegal substance getting into the food chain. i think he was afraid of clenbuterol since that substance is a menace in china,s foodchain.

  28. carlo says:

    he didn,t eat the food given to him in jail. i don,t know if he ordered chinese take out though. The guy was paranoid about banned substances in chinese food aka clenbuterol

    • Gina Rhinestone says:

      The guy had to have eaten wherever he was -imo a place they put naughty officials not a regular prison. The Mandarin does not fall far from the tree.

  29. Justice says:

    I find that the whole episode ridiculous and humorous!! In house (China) competition whereby he can win effortlessly and of he ended with a considerable slow time! and detected with recently banned stimulant-trimetazidine- which is prescribed for related heart problems. His team’s doctor (barefoot doctor who doctored banned substance aka ‘ninja’) should be banned from the swimming circle for such a ‘silly’ controversy for mismanaging the welfare of an athlete. Maybe his mentor in Australia should enlighten us why his raw talents and perfect coached techniques need extra stimulant-analogous to an addictive for engine oil for better fuel consumption and clean engine- for his outstanding feats which was painfully trained for years for the enjoyment of the world swimming fraternities to put into disrepute!! Before the ultimate ban on last January 2014 maybe probably WADA should furnished us the evidences trimetazidine that will enhance performance in endurance swimming like 1500m and also past records of detection of the substance ingested by swimmers….maybe starting by going back to all available samples of London Olympics 2012 and world championship 2013 for a retest of the 1500m finalist samples to validate the efficacy of TMZ in endurance swimming!! Maybe TMZ meant to save life then to be PED. Somebody or parties need to be transparent and be accounted for this sensational controversy or conspiracy!!

  30. Lydia says:

    Trimetazidine is no longer banned in World Anti Doping Code 2015. So what Sun Yang encountered was INCONSISTENT ANTI DOPING RULE. Also means he did not cheat.

  31. Lydia says:

    Trimetazidine was banned due to its chemical formula similar to certain specified substance. But it not enhance sports performance. That’s why it had been removed in 2015. Sun is the only athlete banned by Trimetazidine.

  32. Lydia says:

    Trimetazidine is no longer banned in World Anti Doping Code 2015. So what Sun Yang encountered was INCONSISTENT ANTI DOPING RULE. Also means he did not cheat.

  33. Jen denman says:

    Nothing but a drug cheat world records mean nothing when you cheat to win

  34. Sun yang is a cheating hog says:

    He is also on human growth hormone. You can tell by the widening of his cheeks, which is a common symptom of hgh injections. He is a cheater and deserves to be banned permanently from the sport.

  35. Gui Pattison says:

    Just like Russia, typical Communist cheating program and punishment is a scolding by a feather. BAN FOR LIFE these CHEATS

  36. Hammer says:

    Yang, u are a legend in your own mind ! then u say u are the king, yeah, king of ……………..
    Was not that long ago, there was a female Chinese swimmer built like Arnold Schwarzenegger who won a Gold medal.
    Came from no where and after the event disappeared into thin air, strange that…

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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