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Sun sets sights on more glory

By Sun Xiaochen in Sanya, Hainan province | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-04 07:56

Chinese megastar sends ominous message to world at FINA awards

Sun Yang said he is as determined as ever to add to his major championship medal haul after making a show-stealing appearance at the 2017 FINA World Aquatics Gala in Sanya on Saturday night.

Toned and tanned Sun's physical condition alone was signal enough of his resolve to earn more glory in the pool for China.

The three-time Olympic freestyle champion has just completed a grueling one-month, offseason training program on Australia's Gold Coast, where he spent five hours a day fine-tuning his technique.

And he is confident the hard work will reap rich rewards.

"I believe all the little small adjustments could help me push my performance to a much higher level," Sun said after receiving a special award for Outstanding Contribution to Swimming Popularity in China at the coastal tourist resort on Saturday.

"I have thrown myself into a tough training regime in Australia, like I have done every year. I enjoy it because hard work makes me satisfied."

Sun cemented his superstar status by winning 200m freestyle gold at last year's Rio Olympics, following victories in the 400 and 1500m at London 2012.

And the Zhejiang native, who turned 26 on Friday, is confident of continuing to lead China's charge.

Sun sets sights on more glory

"If my body allows, I will try to keep competing through 2022," said Sun, who has over 32 million followers on his Weibo account.

"My biggest birthday wish is to keep the country among the world's top contenders in the pool as long as I can."

FINA handed out 13 awards on Saturday, with American Caeleb Dressel and Swede Sarah Sjostrom winning the best male and female swimmer prizes respectively, a first for both athletes.

China's Shi Tingmao won the best female diver award, with Britain's Tom Daley taking the male equivalent.

Despite the star-studded cast in Sanya, Sun remained the fan favorite, as evidenced by the hordes of supporters chanting his name and holding his posters wherever he appeared.

The nine-time world champion remains China's most recognizable sports star internationally since the retirements of basketball icon Yao Ming, tennis ace Li Na and Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang.

Sun's bid to become the first swimmer to win four Olympic disciplines by adding 800m freestyle gold to his collection in 2020 would send his superstardom rocketing to even greater heights.

"That's a huge motivation. It will be of great significance if I can win the 800m on its Olympic debut in Tokyo," he said.

However, Sun's declining endurance as he grows older could thwart that ambition. He hasn't won an 800m race since the 2015 world championships, and hasn't triumphed in his world-record 1,500m event since the 2013 worlds.

These days, though, medals aren't everything for Sun, who appears to be maturing into his role as a national icon. Before Saturday night's ceremony, Sun, his Chinese freestyle teammate Ye Shiwen and British diver Daley hosted a junior swimming and diving clinic at Sanya Sports Center.

Sun remarked of that trip: "More than winning medals, it makes me even happier now knowing that I have the power to inspire some kids to start swimming."

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