Sun Yang

Sun Yang’s return sets up potential legendary race

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The last eight men’s winners of Swimming World‘s World Swimmer of the Year are active, now that Sun Yang is back from suspension and Michael Phelps out of retirement.

Sun, Phelps and Ryan Lochte combined to win every World Swimmer of the Year title since 2006 — five for Phelps, two for Lochte and one for Sun (last year).

It’s not out of the question that Sun, Phelps and Lochte could go head to head to head in the same final in the distant future, based on separate meets this week in China and Charlotte, where Sun and Phelps were both slated for the 200m freestyle.

The 200m free was the famous “Race of the Century” event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. It was a decade ago that Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband, Phelps and Grant Hackett raced together. That quartet combined to win 12 straight Swimmer of the Year titles from 1998 through 2009 (though Thorpe and Phelps owned 10 of the 12).

But back to Sun.

The 22-year-old returned in strong form Monday from a suspension dating to November, winning the 200m free at the Chinese National Championships by more than 1.5 seconds.

Sun, 22, clocked 1:46.04 in Qingdao, China. The Olympic 400m and 1500m free champion is returning to competition after he was suspended following a car accident in which he drove without a license in November. It was reported he had foot surgery in January.

“My aerobic training has not yet [kicked in],” Sun said Monday, according to SwimVortex.com. “I hope to get better and better after I’ve had a longer period of time to train.”

Comparing early season times can be dangerous, but note that Lochte won the 200m free at the Mesa Grand Prix in 1:49.48 on April 25. Lochte finished fourth in the 200m free at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships and is currently the top rival to Sun as the world’s best swimmer.

France’s Yannick Agnel, who trains with Phelps in Baltimore, is the reigning Olympic and world 200m free champion. Australian Cameron McEvoy owns the fastest time of 2014, 1:45.46.

Sun, who is better in longer distances, won silver in the 200m free at the 2012 Olympics in a national record 1:44.93. He did not swim the 200m free at the 2013 World Championships, where he swept the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles.

He did, however, anchor China’s 4x200m free relay team that won bronze. Sun’s split — 1:43.16 — was the second-fastest in history and 1.82 seconds better than the other 31 swimmers, including Lochte and Agnel.

So, when could we see Sun, Phelps and Lochte in the same race? Perhaps the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia in August, if Lochte and Phelps opt for the 200m free and make the U.S. team, certainly bigger concerns for Phelps than Lochte.

A problem for Sun is the Pan Pacific Championships schedule, which calls for both the 200m free and 1500m free finals on the first night. And who knows if Sun will even enter the meet, given China sent just four swimmers (Sun not among them) to the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships.

Olympic medalist, world champion swimmer banned for doping

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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