After winning nine of the ten diving golds on offer at the FINA World Championships, there have been very mixed fortunes for China so far in the swimming pool.
On Day 1, Sun Yang dominated in the men’s 400m freestyle, winning by over three seconds in a time of 3:41.59. Though he was 1.5 seconds off the world record (set in the shark skin suit era), he said he was pleased with his time because he didn’t have a major challenger. If he had had one, he said, he would have gone a lot faster.
It was the perfect way to answer his critics after a pretty dismal few months, and shows that he has lost none of his sparkle from the London Olympics a year ago, where he won golds in the 400m free and 1,500m free. He’s also racing the non-Olympic distance 800m free in Barcelona, so put your house on him bringing three individual golds back to China.
Someone who appears to have completely lost her mojo, however, is Ye Shiwen, the young female medley star who made as many headlines out of the pool in London (for doping allegations, which, it must be said, were completely unsubstantiated) as she did in it, where she won two gold medals.
Ye qualified for the 200m IM final in second, behind Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, and most were expecting the two of them to battle it out for the gold. But Hosszu finished well clear at the front, while Ye reached the final turn in dead last, before pulling back into fourth place with a strong freestyle leg.
Some numbers: Ye’s time of 2:10.48 was three seconds slower than her winning time in London last year – a huge amount in a 200m race. More tellingly, perhaps, it was even slower than her qualifying time in Sunday’s heat.
Ye didn’t really want to talk about it afterwards, and I’m told she was (understandably) none too happy, despite Xinhua claiming she was “in good spirits”. She blamed it on the pressure of success following London, while her coach admitted that she had put on 5 kgs (12 pounds) at one stage over the last year. It’s not clear how much of this weight she has since dropped, but it’s obviously not a good sign.
Hosszu was the 400m IM world champion in 2009, and finished fourth behind Ye in that same race at the 2012 Olympics. She is now back to her best and must now be considered a favorite to win the 400m IM. If Hosszu’s career is anything to go by, then, there is still hope for Ye, but redemption may take another year or two to realize.