Chinese swim star Sun Yang fights to save career at new doping hearing

·3-min read

Sun Yang's high-profile retrial at the Court of Arbitration for Sport takes place next week with the Chinese swimming star's Tokyo Olympics and his whole career hanging in the balance.

It is the latest -- and perhaps decisive -- twist in the triple Olympic champion's colourful life inside and outside the pool, and the clock is ticking with the Tokyo Games just two months away.

The 1500m freestyle world record-holder was banned by Lausanne-based CAS for eight years in February last year for refusing to give a sample following an incident in which a member of his entourage smashed a vial containing Sun's blood when doping inspectors visited his home.

However, the 29-year-old Sun appealed and Switzerland's federal supreme court overturned the career-ending punishment last December over alleged bias towards the swimmer, who remains a huge star in China.

Sun, who was banned for three months in 2014 for a separate doping offence, has always protested his innocence in the murky events of September 2018.

He says the doping testers were not qualified or authorised.

The new hearing will take place by video link and is scheduled to last from Tuesday to Thursday. CAS says a decision will be announced "at a later date".

The conclusion will be eagerly watched both inside and outside China, especially with the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Olympics coming up fast.

Sun is the reigning 200m freestyle Olympic champion, as well as an 11-time world champion, and is feted at home for his success and perceived good looks.

But long-simmering antipathy towards him from some of his rivals burst out into the open at the Rio 2016 Olympics when Australian Mack Horton blasted Sun as a "drug cheat" before pipping him to gold in the 400m freestyle.

The usually steely Sun broke down in tears.

He hit back to win the 200m but not before French swimmer Camille Lacourt caused another storm by declaring, in a nod to Sun's 2014 doping ban: "Sun Yang pisses purple."

Then, at an ill-tempered 2019 world championships, Horton refused to pose for pictures with Sun on the medal podium, a protest repeated by Britain's Duncan Scott.

That enraged Sun, who shouted "I win, you loser" at Scott, in angry scenes rarely seen in swimming.

- Flashpoints -

The only child of an athletic family, Sun announced himself to the wider public at the world championships in Shanghai in 2011. Aged 19, he shattered Grant Hackett's long-standing 1500m freestyle world record and also won the 800m.

He grabbed two more golds at the London 2012 Olympics, again setting a new mark in the 1500m -- a record that still stands.

But then came the first in a long list of flashpoints. In 2013, Sun fell out with long-time coach Zhu Zhigen after a row over the swimmer's romantic ties with a flight attendant.

Months later, Sun, driving without a licence, slammed a borrowed Porsche SUV into a bus in his home city of Hangzhou, near Shanghai. He spent seven days in police detention and later vowed to mend his ways.

At the 2014 Asian Games, Sun was at the centre of controversy again, describing the national anthem of Japan, China's arch-rivals, as "ugly" after losing to Kosuke Hagino in the 200m freestyle.

In November 2014 came the bombshell announcement that Sun had served a three-month suspension earlier that year for taking a banned stimulant.

He has always maintained it was prescribed medicine for a heart condition.

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