FTW Explains: Why Sun Yang, China’s most successful swimmer, was hit with an 8-year ban


FEBRUARY 28, 2020

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, one of the country’s most successful athletes ever, was slapped with an incredible eight-year ban on Friday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And that means not only will the 28-year-old two-time Olympian will miss the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer, but he’ll also be excluded from the next Summer Olympics, the 2024 Paris Games.

Sun has become an increasingly controversial figure in the swimming world while he racked up several historic achievements, including becoming the first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming (London in 2012) and the first Chinese athlete to win Olympic gold in the 200-meter freestyle (Rio in 2016).

But, as with most doping-related cases, Sun’s situation is complicated. So here’s a breakdown of what exactly all this means.

Who is Sun Yang?

(Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

He’s a two-time Olympian and China’s most successful swimmer ever, and he’s also impressively versatile, competing in a variety of distance events.

By winning the 400-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Games, he became the first Chinese man to win Olympic gold. He later won gold in the 1,500-meter freestyle and broke his own world record, which currently still stands. That year, he also won silver in the 200 freestyle and bronze in the 4×200 freestyle relay. In Rio for the 2016 Olympics, he won gold in the 200-meter freestyle and silver in the 400.

And following a strong — and controversial, but more on that in a second — performance last summer at world championships, he has 11 world titles, which is second in swimming history behind Michael Phelps.

So why is Sun Yang banned from swimming for eight years?

Simply, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which settles international disputes in sports, found Sun “guilty of refusing to cooperate with sample collectors during a visit to his home in September 2018 that turned confrontational,” as the Associated Press reported. It was a unanimous decision with the CAS siding with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over Sun and FINA, swimming’s international governing body, which sided with the Olympian.

More via the AP:

In a rare hearing in open court in November, evidence was presented of how a security guard instructed by Sun’s mother broke the casing around a vial of his blood, while the swimmer lit the early-hours scene with his mobile phone.

“The athlete failed to establish that he had a compelling justification to destroy his sample collection containers and forego the doping control when, in his opinion, the collection protocol was not in compliance,” the CAS panel of three judges agreed in a unanimous verdict.

Sun’s argument was that the testers didn’t have proper identification. But the CAS took issue with his sample being destroyed. Via the CAS’ release:

[I]t is one thing, having provided a blood sample, to question the accreditation of the testing personnel while keeping the intact samples in the possession of the testing authorities; it is quite another thing, after lengthy exchanges and warnings as to the consequences, to act in such a way that results in destroying the sample containers, thereby eliminating any chance of testing the sample at a later stage.

Has Sun Yang been suspended from swimming before?

Yes, though obviously for not nearly as long. The Chinese team briefly suspended Sun from competing for three months in 2014 after testing positive for a banned heart medication, which he said he didn’t know was banned. In 2013, he also crashed a friend’s Porsche SUV into a bus while driving without a license and was punished with seven days in “administrative detention.”

How do his competitors feel about him?

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Sun is a polarizing figure in swimming, and his previous suspension from the sport led to Australian swimmer Mack Horton calling Sun a “drug cheat,” which then created a feud between their respective countries at the Rio Olympics.

Then at world championships in South Korea last summer, Horton, who finished second to Sun in the 400-meter freestyle, protested Sun and refused to acknowledge him on the podium. FINA warned Horton about protesting, which led to American Lily King, who’s been vocal about her anti-doping stance, to say, via NBC Sports:

“FINA has currently done more to reprimand Mack Horton than they have done to reprimand Sun Yang.”

Sun also won the 200 freestyle after the original winner was disqualified, and Britain’s Duncan Scott, who then finished in a tie for third, also staged a protest. Afterward, Sun confronted Scott about it:

Is Sun Yang appealing the eight-year ban?

Of course. According to Xinhua News Agency, Sun said he will “definitely” appeal the ban to a Swiss court.

“This is unfair. I firmly believe in my innocence,” Sun told Xinhua. “I will definitely appeal to let more people know the truth.”

So when will Sun Yang be eligible to compete again?

Assuming his ban is upheld, he will not be eligible to compete again until February 2028, when he’ll be 36 years old.

How did the swimming world react to Sun’s punishment?

At least one competitor, South Africa’s Chad Le Clos, responded on Twitter. Le Clos — who finished second to Sun in the 200 freestyle in Rio and is arguing he has a claim for the gold medal — tweeted Friday:

Courtesy/Source: USA Today