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Sun Scorches Park With 3:40.14 Storm

Jul 28, 2012

Olympic Games, London, Day 1 finals:

Men's 400 freestyle

The second final of the night saw the second reigning champion defeated, as Sun Yang beat Park Tae-hwan (KOR) into silver to become the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming crown.

Sun's 3:40.14 victory, just 0.07sec shy of the world record held by Paul Biedermann (GER) from shiny suited Rome 2009 and 0.06sec shy of the best textile bodysuit time ever, Ian Thorpe's 3:40.08 from 2002. Under current suit rules that forbid the torso to be covered, Sun is the fastest we've ever seen.

He swam a tactical masterpiece, sticking with Park like glue every stroke of the way. Park had the best splits at 100m, 200m and 300m, at which point the gap was just 0.01sec. By the last turn, Sun was almost a second ahead, his pace too hot for Park to handle at the end of a day of stress, the Korean having been reinstated into the final after disqualification in heats because he was said to have moved on his blocks.

Down the last length, Sun reminded all of Thorpe's fountain-like kick as he  pulverised the rest by taking almost another second off Park. The bronze went to Ryan Lochte's Gators teammate Peter Vanderkaay (USA), in 3:44.89. The Gator made it four Olympics straight at which the US has taken the bronze in this event.

Meanwhile, in this form, Sun, world champion and record holder coached by Denis Cotterell in Australia for at least part of each of the past three years, looks set to celebrate two gold medals at these Olympics and has a chance to upset in the 4x200m freestyle with teammates too.

For those who missed the heats: In a shocker of a start for Germany, world-record holder Paul Biedermann, third at world titles last year was 12th. But the heat is hotter than ever and not the place to make a tactical error the Olympic Games. Biedermann conserved some energy by taking it easy off a couple of walls. A high price to pay.

The splits: 

  • Sun  53.59; 1:21.93; 1:50.52; 2:18.50; 2:46.64; 3:13.74; 3:40.14
  • Park 53.34; 1:21.75; 1:50.20; 2:18.47; 2:46.63; 3:14.64; 3:42.06

"I cried because I did feel a lot of pressure," Sun said in the mixed zone after a great display of water slapping and fist pumping in the lane ropes in celebration of a dream come true. "At the moment my coach is not in good health, so I dedicate this win to him. I've sum a personal best and want to use this swim to show the South Koreans that we are really good swimmers, and we don't need to do anything to win - other than swim."

And perhaps train in Australia - which Park also does. The defending champion was visibly annoyed with his result - having made it back into the running with a wearying appeal - and having missed out on the top step of the podium.  "I'm disappointed because I've waited a long time for this race. I don't want to say that what happened earlier had a negative effect on my performance - but it did."

He found some solace in the Asian domination of the event. "Although I lost I'm glad it was an Asian who won. That is something we can be proud of." Something you would not find a European saying and something that sounded odd for a man prepared for the fight in Australia. Swimmers swim for countries, not continents and not ethnic groups. 

As for Sun, expect fireworks in the 30-lapper on the closing day of action in the pool next Saturday. A year ago in Shanghai, the 10-year world-record reign of 2000 and 2004 Olympic champion Grant Hackett (AUS) fell to Sun when the Chinese sensation clocked 14:34.14, a last 100m 54.22 split sweeping him 0.42sec inside Hackett’s legendary 2001 world record.  

Back then Sun said: "I was not obsessed with the world record before the final, because I wanted to focus on my plan. My goal is to win the gold. I'm so grateful to the whole Chinese team, including my coach and my parents as well, and I think the world record belongs to all of them. This is a result of all the hard training and preparation I went through in Australia with Dennis Cotterell."

The significance of that was lost on no Australian. in 2001, Hackett was part of a team that defeated the US on gold medal count to win the meet. Ten years on, Australia was beaten off the podium in the 4x200m freestyle by China at the world championships last year. In the 40m final today, Australia settled for last, courtesy of Ryan Napoleon, its fight in distance freestyle having faded. Nor will it have a contender for a medal in the 1500m. 

Australians are now considering paying their coaches bonuses not to coach foreigners, Chinese in particular, with bigger purses. Yao Zhengjie, China head coach, responded with: "Chinese swimming is still relatively underdeveloped. Until we become a leading force in this sport, we will continue to send our swimmers abroad for training."

London 2012

  • 1. Sun Yang CHN 3:40.14 Olympic record
  • 2. Park Taehwan KOR 3:42.06
  • 3 Peter Vanderkaay USA 3:44.69

Beijing 2008

  • 1. Park (KOR) 3:41.86 Asian rec
  • 2. Zhang (CHN) 3:42.44 
  • 3. Jensen (USA) 3:42.78

Fastest field ever: Beijing 2008: 3:41.86 - 3:43.97 to seventh but even with Nikita Lobintsev on 3:48.29 for 8th, the last man home was faster than the last man home at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Melbourne 2007.

Comparison fields:

  • London 2012: 3:40.14 - 3:49.25
  • Shanghai 2011: 3:42.04 - 3:47.66
  • Beijing 2008: 3:41.86 - 3:48.29
  • Melbourne 2007: 3:44.30 - 3:48.49
  • Athens 2004: 3:43.10 - 3:48.96

To qualify for the final it took: 

  • 3:47.25 London 2012
  • 3:46.88 Shanghai 2011
  • 3:44.82 Beijing 2008

London the slowest qualification of those majors.

Report by Karin Helmstaedt and Craig Lord