Sporting history is littered with talented athletes who end up becoming more notorious for their controversies and scandals than the talent that put them in the headlines in the first place. From OJ Simpson and Lance Armstrong to John McEnroe and Tiger Woods, the list is endless (and mostly male).
While not quite yet on that same global level, Chinese swimming star Sun Yang is well on his way to securing a place in the pantheon of sporting notoriety.
He’s been banned for drugs and labeled a cheat by fellow swimmers at the Rio Olympics, he’s been locked up for crashing a car while driving without a license — and pissing off his fellow prisoners once inside — and he’s repeatedly clashed with Chinese swimming authorities, usually over a combination of commercial disagreements and maternal interference.
But his latest scandal could be the one to finally elevate him to greatness.
This column brought you news of Sun’s second drugs incident earlier this year, when he was accused of using a hammer to smash a vial that contained his recently drawn blood sample.
This week, Australian newspaper The Sunday Telegraph published the full 59-page report of world swimming body FINA’s findings over that case, which allowed Sun to escape with a “serious rebuke,” a.k.a. no penalty whatsoever.
But the decision was widely seen as so egregious that anti-doping body WADA appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which won’t hear the case until September.
Sun and his lawyers this week asked for a “public trial” at CAS, adding that he “objects to being tried by the Australian press.”
The delay in the case has angered fellow competitors, who have argued that Sun shouldn’t be allowed to compete at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, Korea — which begins on Sunday — while he remains under this cloud of suspicion.
Outspoken U.S. swimmer and double Olympic champion Lilly King led the criticism this week, saying, “I am not remotely comfortable with FINA’s approach to doping. They could start with not letting people who have smashed blood vials in tests compete in their meets. That’s really sketchy.”
Sun will swim the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle events in Gwangju, but won’t compete in the 1,500m race, despite holding the world record since eclipsing Australian Grant Hackett’s time at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai.
Meanwhile, his long-time Australian rival, Mack Horton, who challenged him over his drug record in Rio before beating him in the 400m, was assigned the next-door training lane to Sun in Gwangju in the build-up to the races, prompting Sun and his coaches to ask for a lane change.
Given that a splashing incident in the training pool in Rio initially kicked off their beef, that was probably a good idea.
When you strip away the controversy, Sun is one of the best athletes around. He’s the only swimmer to win Olympic gold over 200, 400, and 1,500 meters, and also has another nine World Championship gold medals to his name.
He’s one of China’s best hopes for gold next year at the Tokyo Olympics — but many will be hoping CAS bans him for life long before he gets that chance.
China’s road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup was laid out this week as the draw for Round 2 of the Asian qualification process — the first stage at which China enters — was made in Kuala Lumpur.
And the result was about as good as China could have hoped for.
China (FIFA ranking #73) will face Syria (#85), the Philippines (#126), the Maldives (#151) and Guam (#190) in Group A as it bids to return to the World Cup for the first time since 2002.
The eight group winners and four best runners-ups will advance to the final round of qualifying for the World Cup, unless hosts Qatar are one of those dozen teams, in which case the fifth-best group runners-up will also advance.
🔥🔥 We’re definitely in for a treat. Here’s the #AsianQualifiers Round 2 draw results.
Tell us your thoughts!🤔 pic.twitter.com/aopLq2AOpA
— AFC (@theafcdotcom) July 17, 2019
Elsewhere, Iran and Iraq will go head to head in Group C (which also includes Hong Kong), North and South Korea will play in Group H, Taiwan must get past one of Australia or Jordan in Group B, while Macau was denied the chance to qualify for the second stage, after the local FA pulled out of a match with Sri Lanka against the wishes of the players.
Interestingly, China’s campaign begins with home and away games against the Maldives this fall, prompting nostalgic fans to recall that China’s successful run to the 2002 World Cup also began with a match against the Maldivians.
The 100-day countdown to this year’s WTA Finals was marked with the announcement that Japanese sponsor Shiseido will become the title sponsor — a fairly curious decision given the tennis tournament is being held for the next 10 years in Shenzhen and could have provided an ambitious Chinese sponsor with some global exposure.
But the main talking point about the tournament’s relocation from Singapore to Shenzhen is that there will be twice as much prize money on offer — $14 million.
According to China Daily, if the singles champion wins all her matches (three group-stage and two knockout contests), she will pocket a total of $4.725 million — the largest winner’s check in professional tennis, and considerably more than the $3.85 million given to the two singles winners at the U.S. Open, the next best prize in the sport.
There are now 10 WTA tournaments on the Chinese mainland — nearly 20 percent of the tour’s total — with six squeezed into the month immediately following the U.S. Open (September 9 to October 13).
Those are then followed by the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai (October 22 to 27), for singles players ranked 9-16, and the WTA Finals in Shenzhen (October 27 to November 3) for the top eight players in the world.
In other news:
NHL hockey star Alex Ovechkin will be in Beijing in early August to help promote the sport with a series of appearances.
The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers will host the CBA’s Guangdong Loong Lions for a preseason game in October, as part of a wider partnership. Both ownership groups have esports teams in the Overwatch League.
The China Sports Column will start to run a series of weekly highlights, showcasing some of the sporting action you may have missed. First up, it’s Chinese soccer star Wang Shuang — featured in this column several times previously — with this great run into the box to lose the defender and a solid header to finish.
— Wangshuang (@wangshuang7) July 16, 2019
Following the Women’s World Cup, Wang was brought home to play in the Chinese Women’s Super League — most likely on orders from above — returning from the much more competitive French league, where she played for PSG.
But as good as this goal is, you can’t help but feel that Wang’s talents deserve a larger audience than the handful of people who turned up to watch.