Crisis? What Crisis? So ran the theme on day three at China nationals in Zhengzhou as far as the star of the show, Sun Yang, was concerned: in 1:44.99 he crushed the opposition in the 200m freestyle just 0.06sec outside the time in which he match Park Taehwan (KOR) for Olympic silver at London 2012 last year.
At the end of a winter of discontent - a much-publicised dispute with his coach Zhu Zhigen and shoulder injuries in the wash - Sun is back to the top speed he mustered in a week in London last year that delivered Olympic gold over 400m and 1500m free.
The third day at nationals also delivered 2013 world top 3 efforts from 16-year-old Fu Yuanhui, like Sun from Zhejiang, on a personal best of 59.56 in the 100m backstroke; and 15-year-old Pang Wenxian, of Tianjin, and 14-year-old Xu Danlu, of Ningxia, on 16:06.10 and 16:07.02 respectively in the 1500m freestyle.
Sun's victory swept him well out ahead of the rest at the helm of the world rankings, next best so far this year (early days) a 1:46.11 from Olympic champion Yannick Agnel (FRA), London 2012 champion in a stunning 1:43.14 last year.
Coach Zhu wanted Sun removed from the programme when the freestyler missed some sessions and went out with his girlfriend after a post-Olympic break; Sun called from the coach to go; the system backed the coach and Sun said sorry. After winning the 400m free on day 1, Sun also noted that he has endured shoulder injuries and has been unable to do the kind of work he once did. For the 200 and 400m at least, none of his woes appears to have put Sun off his pace in the water.
"I know a lot of people hope I can make a breakthrough in 200m free, but I just take it as a practice since I didn't train enough recently," Sun told Xinhua. "I will train harder after the championships, even harder than what I did before the Olympic Games to improve the result. Since I have not been under systematic training for more than two months, I am satisfied with the time."
The suggestion is clear: Sun intends to step up much closer to Agnel come the big one.
Next home over 200m in Zhengzhou today were Wang Shun, also Zhejiang, 1:46.60; Hao Yun, Hebei, 1:48.43; Zhang Jie, Shanghai, 1:48.61; and relay reserves Li Yunqi, Henan, 1:49.08; and Mao Feilian, Zhejiang, 1:49.35. Jiang Yuhui, of Shanghai, was the last man inside 1:50, on 1:49.59. The 4x200m podium at Barcelona world championships this summer remains in the frame after a big breakthrough bronze for China's men at London 2012.
In the 1500m free for women, Pang and Xu rose to No2 and No 3 on the current world ranks behind the 16:01.41 of Denmark's world champion Lotte Friis, now training partner in Nice of Agnel and Olympic 400m champion Camille Muffat. Pang improved from a best of 16:33.00 at nationals a year ago, while Xu, 15 this year, made her 1500m world-ranks debut with a 16:07 after having set a best time over 800m of 8:37.65 last year. Their efforts locked out national team members Li Xuanxu, the Olympic 400IM bronze medallist from Hunan, on 16:26.65, and Zhou Lili, Shanghai, on 16:30.13.
Fu's 59.56 on backstroke took her inside the 59.82 best she established in the semis at London 2012 last year, and placed her No3 on the current world ranks topped so far this year by a 59.16 from Aya Terakawa (JPN) and Olympic champion Missy Franklin (USA), on 59.34. The Japanese are set for their own nationals next week.
In the men's backstroke final, He Jianbin, of Guangdong, clocked 53.97, 6th in the world so far this season, to crack his personal best, 54.25 from nationals a year ago. Cheng Feiyi, Liaoning, on 54.06, and Xu Jiayu, Zhejiang, on 54.17, followed the winner home ahead of two others inside 55sec.
The last women's final of the day, the 100m breaststroke was won by Sun Ye, of Shanghai, her 1:07.90 the 5th best in the world so far this season. The minor spoils went to Shi Jinglin, Jiangsu, on 1:08.33, and He Yuzhe, Zhejiang, on 1:08.65, just 0.04sec ahead of national team member Ji Liping, of Shanghai.
Day 3 results at a glance: