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M800 Free: Sun Sets On Hackett High

Jul 27, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 4 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai

Men's 800m freestyle

Sun Yang (CHN) became the fastest ever in a textile suit and scored a psychological point over Canadian rival Ryan Cochrane and Olympic 1500m champion Ousamma Mellouli (TUN) when he crashed into the wall for a 7:38.57 victory, 0.08sec inside the standard that had stood as a world record to Grant Hackett (AUS) between the heights of the Montreal world championships of 2005 and the sinking of history in booster suits in Rome two years ago.

Sun, with Cochrane his shadow throughout, had gained a decisive edge by half-way, 3:51.36 to 3:52.00 over Cochrane, with Mellouli on 3:52.57 and Gergo Kis (HUN) on 3:54.66 in last place. Sun then piled on the pressure, the Canadian the only man able to respond. With 200m to go the gap between the two was less than 1sec but Sun then rocketed off the wall and though Cochrane held a magnificent pace, the Chinese challenger stirring the crowd to fever pitch, pulled away almost stroke for stroke.    

Over the last 100m, Sun cranked out splits of 27.61 and 26.87, to 28.42 and 28.13 for Cochrane. The Canadian took silver in 7:41.86, the bronze going to Gergo Kis (HUN) in 7:44.94 after a 26.64 closing 50m that took his past Mellouli, locked out on 7:45.99, with pal Joensen (FAR) fifth in 7:46.51.

Denis Cotterell, Hackett's mentor, coaches Sun on the Gold Coast. The Chinese splits of 2011 compared to the Aussie splits of 2005 confirm the extraordinary nature of Sun's powerful last 200m:

The splits compared:

  • 2005: 54.38; 1:51.89; 2:49.49; 3:47.17; 4:45.03; 5:43.55; 6:42.11; 7:38.65
  • 2011: 55.90; 1:54.45; 2:53.08; 3:51.36; 4:49.43; 5:47.24; 6:44.09; 7:38.57

The result: 

  • 1. Sun Yang, China,7:38.57. 
  • 2. Ryan Cochrane, Canada, 7:41.86. 
  • 3. Gergo Kis, Hungary, 7:44.94. 
  • 4. Oussama Mellouli, Tunisia, 7:45.99. 
  • 5. Pal Joensen, Faeroe Islands, 7:46.51. 
  • 6. Chad La Tourette, United States, 7:46.52. 
  • 7. Peter Vanderkaay, United States, 7:46.64. 
  • 8. Sebastien Rouault, France, 7:55.91.

In taking bronze gave Hungary its first medal of the championships.

His maiden world crown in the bag and the prospect of a fine 1500m ahead of him, Sun looks to be in shape to break a 20-month drought on world records since shiny suits were banned. One of only two global standards to survive the booster bodysuits was Hackett's stunning 2001 world-title winning 14:34.56.  "I'm happy with today's performance, especially winning the gold at home," said Sun, who next year must focus on the 30-lapper, the 800m not an Olympic event for men. "I swam at my own rhythm and my last 400 is better than the other swimmers so I sped up at the 700 mark. It's my personal best and it gave me more confidence for the remaining races and next year's London Olympics."

Sun's victory marked only the second world crown for a Chines man, after teammate Zhang Lin won the 800m in Rome in a world record of 7:32.12 that may take some years to get past now the world is racing in textile only. Just under 2m tall and long of limb, Sun had already claimed silver behind Park Tae-hwan (KOR) in the 400m on day 1 of the championships. 

Cochrane, 2008 Olympic bronze medallist coached by Randy Bennett, had reason to be cheerful too: "The goal was to win but I’m happy to progress from the last two years. It shows that I’m in it.  I have a little more work to do to catch Sun Yang but I’m not out of it by any means."

A national record in the bag tonight, Cochrane said it was an exciting experience to challenge the home crowd favourite: "We race pretty similar. But he pulled away at the end.  There are some things to work on in that area but I know I have lot left in me at the end of my race."

While there have been no world long-course records established in the past 20 months, a ban on non-textile suits in force from January 1, 2010, Sun's efforts marked the ninth world best by a swimmer in textile suit since the championships began last Sunday.

The international federation opted not to follow precent set in its history for drawing a line in the record books when it altered the competition environment, leaving swimmers chasing artificial standards, some of which will take many years to replace. In the past, where the race environment has changed in a way that made times slower, a line was drawn in the book, and a new list was created from a fixed point or standard time, without removing any of the faster times that pertained to another era.

History in the making:


  • WR (all suits): 7:32.12 Zhang Lin (CHN) Rome, July 29, 2009
  • WR (textile):   7:38.65 Grant Hackett (AUS) Montreal, July 27, 2005
  • First man inside 8:00: Vladimir Salnikov (URS) Minsk March 23, 1979 
  • First man inside 7:50: Kieren Perkins (AUS) 7:47.85 Edmonton August 25, 1991
  • First man inside 7:40: Ian Thorpe (AUS) 7:39.16 Fukuoka July 24, 2001

World-class stats:

  • World Record wins: Ian Thorpe (AUS) 2001, 7:39.16; Hackett, 2005, 7:38.65; Zhang 2009
  • Title retained: Hackett
  • Most titles: Hackett, 2
  • Biggest margin: Hackett beat Larsen Jensen (USA) by 6.98sec in 2005
  • Closest shave: Przemyslaw Stanczyk (POL) out-touched Craig Stevens (AUS) by 0.76sec in 2007 and was awarded the title after Oussama Mellouli (TUN), the first man home, was forced to return the gold medal after it was revealed that he had failed an out-of-competition doping test four months earlier.

From the archive:

Former Australian team captain Grant Hackett held the world-record world-championship medals tally of 10 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze medals between 1998 and 2007. Over 800m, the Olympic 1,500m champion of 2000 and 2004, took silver behind teammate Ian Thorpe's world record of 7:39.16, before claiming the crown in 7:43.82 in 2003 and retaining it in 2005 in a world mark of 7:38.65. His motto was a call to team players: "Some people say a swimmer goes to his blocks alone … I go knowing that I have my entire team with me. I carry them in my heart and my heart leaps out of my chest."

The 800m proved a controversial event in 2007: in December of the previous year, Oussama Mellouli (TUN) took a stimulant to keep himself awake for exam work at college in the US; in March 2007 he became the first Arab to win a world swimming title, in the 800m at Melbourne; after receiving his medal it was revealed that he had tested positive back in December 2006. Mellouli lost his crown “ that went to Przemyslaw Stanczyk (POL) in 7:47.91 - and was suspended. He made amends by working his way to the Olympic 1,500m freestyle crown in 2008. However, in 2009, he was denied the world 800m title by Zhang Lin (CHN), who set a world mark of 7:32.12 at a time of controversy over suits.