Disgraced swimmer Sun Yang plots return to elite competition after doping ban ends

Sun has finished serving a four-year ban for smashing vials of blood when questioning the credentials of a doping control officer

Luke Baker
Wednesday 29 May 2024 12:50 BST
Sun Yang is one of the most controversial swimmers in the history of the sport
Sun Yang is one of the most controversial swimmers in the history of the sport (Getty Images)

Disgraced former swimming champion Sun Yang has vowed to return to elite competition following the end of his long-term doping ban.

Three-time Olympic champion Sun was suspended for four years and three months in February 2020 – reduced from an initial banishment of eight years – for tampering with the doping control process after he and members of his team smashed vials of blood when they questioned the credentials of a doping control officer. Sun has always disputed the circumstances of the incident.

This was Sun’s second ban for doping after he served three months in 2014 when testing positive for trimetazidine.

His four-year ban ended this week and although it was too late for him to compete at the Chinese Olympic trials, meaning he won’t be at Paris 2024 this summer, he has promised to return to competitive swimming as soon as possible.

“I hope to be able to select a competition soon enough and stand on the starting block, getting back to the pool I was familiar with, getting back to the feeling that I was familiar with,” Sun told state-run Chinese news website The Paper in a video interview.

“I’m proud enough of all the results and honours I’ve achieved throughout my career. At the moment I just hope I can bravely stand on the starting block.

“The Olympics are just a competition for me, they will end, and after they end, there will be another one.”

Sun has long been a controversial figure in the pool amid huge success at major championships. At the London 2012 Olympics, he became the first Chinese swimmer to win Olympic gold, in the 400m and 1500m freestyle events and then won the 200m free in Rio four years later.

He has claimed 11 individual world titles, over 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m but some rivals called him a cheat at the 2016 Rio Olympics and two competitors refused to stand with him on medal podiums at the 2019 World Championships.

Rivals refused to stand on the podium with Sun Yang at the 2019 World Championships
Rivals refused to stand on the podium with Sun Yang at the 2019 World Championships (Getty Images)

His potential return also coincides with Chinese swimmers being under intense scrutiny since it emerged that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) allowed 23 of them to compete at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics despite testing positive for a banned substance. WADA accepted China’s explanation that the swimmers unwittingly consumed the substance through food at their hotel.

Current Chinese anti-doping rules dictate that any athlete handed a suspension for longer than one year is ineligible for national teams, although Sun may end up being an exception. The 32-year-old also explained his reasoning behind wanting to return

“Four years ago I’ve made this decision already – that I wanted to carry on,” Sun said. “I said I would never give up. When the ban started I felt extremely dark. Whatever I wanted to do at the time, as long as it’s reasonable, they (my parents) would support me.

“They were afraid I would go mental because at the time I was swimming every day alone in the pool. Others would wonder why I didn’t do something else after so long (and) that I might have gone crazy.”

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