Image shows Sun Yang after winning the 200m freestyle at Rio. He has declared himself the ‘king of the world’ but has attracted criticism for his ‘shark’ teeth and positive drug tests.
RIO 2016 News: It was the January following the London Olympics and Yang, then aged 21, confessed that he was romantically involved with a China Airlines flight attendant, whose name is believed to be Li Ling and who was five years older than him.
The media storm that ensued did not make international headlines as Sun Yang has been doing — for all the wrong reasons this week at the Rio Olympics, but back then the self-described “king of the World” was thrust into the spotlight.
Sun asked for “private space” for himself and his girlfriend and begged on air “please do not hurt people I care about”.
Image shows Sun Yang and Li Ling.
The 198cm tall Sun, who by virtue of his sporting parents is very tall by Chinese standards, released a few morsels of information about Li Ling.
She was 178cm tall, affectionate and “very considerate” and they had met on a plane when Sun, who also confessed he was “obsessed with flight attendants”, admired her.
Sun said “I do not think that this age gap have any effect on us” and said rumors that had surfaced on social media about their relationship had been “very exaggerated”.
“She is an ordinary girl … and I hope we can have a good relationship,” Sun told the media.
But in the frenzy that followed, the couple was targeted by online trolls and a fake blogger who created an account which published false declarations by Sun’s love interest.
It is unclear whether the relationship survived, and in the Chinese media there was speculation that the romance could be a serious distraction from Sun’s swimming career.
Sun Yang’s parents, Sun Quanhong and Yang Ming (pictured at the London Olympics) are former volleyball players.
Already a superstar, and in the public eye since he burst onto the international swimming scene at the Beijing Olympics as a 16-year-old, Sun Yang is now making waves in the foreign media at the Rio Olympics for all the wrong reasons.
Chinese social media users have hit back at comments by Australia’s Mack Horton (pictured with Sun Yang after the 400m race) over Yang’s drug tests.
Since he won silver to Australian Mack Horton’s gold in the 400m freestyle the man known in China as “The swimming banner of the people” has been called a drug cheat (by Horton).
Sun has defended this, as have social media followers on giant sites like Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, who declared their “hero” was only taking medication for a heart condition and that Horton is a “loser” or a “monster”.
But the swimming banner of the people could not stop the coverage getting personal.
The media has zeroed in on everything from his “shark like” crooked teeth to his long “creepy” fingernails, which suggest a Chinese symbol of wealth on a person who no longer does hard work.
Sun Yang comes from a financially privileged and genetically superior background.
His parents are both university teachers in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
But his father, Sun Quanhong, and mother, Yang Ming, are both former volleyball players and considered tall in China.
In 2005, when Sun Yang was a 13-year-old, he was selected for China’s Zhejiang swimming team, despite being only 1.6m tall.
X-rays of his limbs revealed that he would potentially grow up into a man of 1.9m or more, a rare advantage in a male Chinese swimmer.
At the Beijing Games in 2008, Sun Yang qualified seventh fastest in the 1500m freestyle, and the following year at the world championships won a bronze medal in the same event.
In London, 20-year-old Sun Yang won gold in the 400m and 1500m freestyle, a bronze in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay and tied with South Korean swimming idol Park Tae-hwan for silver in the 200m freestyle.
Sun Yang’s real arch rival is South Korea’s Park Taeh-wan (above) and in Saturday’s 1500m final it will be ‘King of the World’ v ‘Top Gun’ in the pool.
He is officially the most successful Chinese male swimmer in Olympic history, and his parents became celebrities in London and household names back home in Hangzhou, which underwent a bout of Sun-inspired “swimming fever” at local pools.
Sun Yang owed some of that success to the months he spent training on the Gold Coast in the country which now seems to have become his arch enemy.
Poolside at Rio, Sun Quanhong and Yang Ming, have reportedly been cheering him on nervously.
Following their, and their nation’s disappointment with the 400m final, Chinese television flashed up scenes of Sun Quanhong’s face looking glum, followed by images of Sun Yang weeping.
Sun did win gold in the 200m, but for the swimming banner of the Chinese nation, Saturday’s 1500m final has a lot riding on it.
Alongside Mack Horton, there is Sun’s arch rival Park Tae-hwan — aka “Top Gun” and Sun Yang, the would-be king of the world.