Swimming’s 4x100m freestyle relay is no stranger to bulletin-board comments. China’s Sun Yang may have added to that history at the Asian Games.
“The Chinese let their anger out tonight,” he said after helping China win the 4x100m free relay over Japan in Incheon, South Korea, on Wednesday, according to Agence France-Presse. “Honestly speaking, the Japanese national anthem sounds ugly.”
Sun and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino co-starred in the swimming competition in Incheon, even if the facility was named after current South Korean headliner Park Tae-hwan.
Hagino defeated Sun in the 200m, but Sun later won the 400m. Hagino, 20, finished the event with six individual medals. That’s more than Michael Phelps won in any of his Olympics. Hagino has said he wants to become like Phelps. He ought to hit his peak either at the Rio Olympics in 2016, or perhaps the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
To Hagino’s credit, he did not respond to Sun’s comment in similar fashion.
“I didn’t hear what he said so it’s hard to comment,” he said, according to AFP. “But first and foremost we’re all athletes and we have to respect each other. We also have to show human values so hopefully we can continue to compete in that atmosphere.”
Back to Sun. The Olympic 400m and 1500m free champion and reigning Swimming World Swimmer of the Year is known for rocking the boat. Most notoriously, he was briefly detained after getting into a car accident without a license last year and suspended from his college swim team.
Sun’s reported comments followed quotes that pumped up U.S.-Australia and U.S.-France rivalries in the 4x100m free relay at the 2000 and 2008 Olympics.
In 2000, American Gary Hall Jr. said, “My biased opinion says that we will smash them like guitars,” in reference to Australia. (What wasn’t re-reported nearly as much from the article was Hall calling Australia “beautiful” with “admirable” people who had “good humor” and “genuine kindness.”)
Australian Ian Thorpe fell behind and then passed Hall on the final leg of the 2000 Olympic relay, igniting a raucous celebration at the Sydney Aquatic Centre. Memorably, another Australian, Michael Klim led a group strumming air guitars on the deck after Thorpe touched.
In 2008, the U.S. men got word before the relay that France’s Alain Bernard said his team would smash the Americans. Of course, Bernard was run down by Jason Lezak on anchor, the fastest relay split of all time.
Neither China nor Australia should figure into the gold-medal race in the 4x100m free in Rio 2016, but Sun and Hagino appear headed for many more battles in their careers. They will surely share more podiums, and if the Asian Games was any indication, Sun will have to listen to the Japanese anthem in some of those instances.