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China Has Mixed Feelings Over Disgraced Swimmer Sun Yang’s Return to the Sport

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Swimmer Sun Yang fell from grace after a drawn-out dispute with rival Mack Horton, who called Sun a “drug cheat” and refused to take the medal stand with him. The situation culminated in Sun’s security guard smashing a vial of blood that was taken for a surprise testing — in the end, Sun was handed an eight-year ban in a public trial.

An eight-year ban would have ended when Sun was 36 years old, essentially closing out his career early. Now though, it seems Sun will return four years earlier than expected, in time for the 2024 Paris Games.

Chinese sports fans, who went from holding Sun as a national hero, to calling him a “pitiful and pathetic child,” are reacting to the news with mixed feelings.

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“Sun Yang has done a lot for the country and deserves recognition,” reads one top comment. “This is undeniable fact. People who ridicule him and fail to recognize this lack virtue!”

“These kind of people need a few more years,” contests another. “To become champion by relying on drugs is a national shame.”

“I hate his blind self-confidence,” writes one user, pushing back against comments about national pride. “This isn’t Bruce Lee. Sun isn’t Bruce Lee fighting for China.”

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Sun’s case has been full of twists and turns. It was Sun who requested the rare public trial in order to “clear his name,” only to be hit with the eight-year ban. But the athlete’s team appealed the decision, on the grounds that one of the judges behind the ruling had exhibited anti-Chinese sentiment via tweets.

The new ruling was welcomed by the World Anti-Doping Federation, who had challenged swimming organization FINA’s initial decision to let Sun off the hook with a warning.

“Today’s ruling reconfirms WADA’s position in relation to the original FINA ruling, which was that there were a number of points that were inconsistent with the Code,” the Federation said in a statement. “Today’s CAS ruling validates those concerns.”

Sun will not be eligible for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Cover image: JD Lasica/Cruisable

Brian Smelzer
    Brian grew up in New York City and studied political science at Marymount University. He became fascinated by Chinese culture in high school, and in college began exploring Mandarin, loose leaf tea, and modern China behind the headlines.