Sun Completes The Circle With Distance Sweep

Sun circles another first in th history book [photo: Patrick B. Kraemer]

Over the past few years, no one has doubted the talent of China’s Sun Yang. Rapidly moving toward status as one of the finest distance freestylers in history, Sun can do it all in the pool, and on command. On the last night of the World Championships, he also showed a bit of showmanship, keeping the crowd at the Palau Sant Jordi in suspense. With a late charge, he did just enough to win a second straight 1500 title to add to his wins in the 400m and 800m; Ryan Cochrane (CAN) takes third straight silver; bronze to Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA)

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Over the past few years, no one has doubted the talent of China’s Sun Yang. Rapidly moving toward status as one of the finest distance freestylers in history, Sun can do it all in the pool, and on command. On the last night of the World Championships, he also showed a bit of showmanship, keeping the crowd at the Palau Sant Jordi in suspense. With a late charge, he did just enough to win a second straight 1500 title to add to his wins in the 400m and 800m; Ryan Cochrane (CAN) takes third straight silver; bronze to Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA)


Lennart van Haaften

Great article again, thanks for covering the meet so well. 🙂


I think it’s worth remembering Tim Shaw is the only man to have won 200, 400 and 1 500 at the same championship (1975). He surely wouild have won the 800, but it wasn’t on the program at the time. And Shaw was deprived of another gold medal when the USA 4×200 was disqualified (Bruce Furniss started too soon…).

Rob Trimbee

I too commend the coverage. Well done Vortex!

Commenting on this article, Canadians should be proud of Ryan’s achievement. His final 100 split of 55.91 is very impressive notwithstanding Sun’s sub-55 effort. Remember, Sun’s 200 split in the 4×200 free relay was 1:43+ – the best of the meet by far. Still, Ryan’s approach to the mile is like a machine. Just think … a 1 second improvement per 100 would drop his time well below the existing world record – something that will be required to win gold in Rio. That’s what … one or two strokes less per?? … I’m one who believes Ryan is capable.

Lennart van Haaften

It’s not a given Shaw would have won 200, 400, 800, and 1500 if the 800 would have been available, because his schedule would have been much heavier. Possibly Sun withdrew from the 200 for precisely this reason. He may not have been as well prepared as he was last year, and wanted to improve his chances in his main events.

Casual Observer

With constant doubling and tripling, is there REALLY any point to having the 800 AND the 1500 in the program. Seriously. It is exactly the same cast of characters and usually the same order of finish in each.

Craig Lord

Journalistically speaking, it does not go down well – I was speaking to many colleagues who felt the 50s strokes and the extra distance events and now mixed relays in 2015, for 42 events on the prog, is too much… waters down everything. Some think more is more is more and want more. There’s a price to pay.


Yep, I am a supporter of casual or journalistic approach as it’s the only way to make swimming more popular in the eyes of public and it’s what we all are hoping for I presume?

It’s exactly as Graig put it, having too many events waters down (dilutes) the established events. Swimming has many events already and many persons, mostly at the helm of other sports, kept saying that Phelps is not the greatest Olympian as it’s too easy to win medals in swimming, or at least Phelps is not the greatest owing to the number of medals he has won but maybe because of his fantastic triples at the same event etc.

If we want to have more events, only reasonable way is the differentiation of championships schedules. I don’t understand why one must have everything in every meeting. When it comes to distance events I’m supporting the idea that we should have 1500m at the long course Worlds and 800m at the s/c Worlds.

When it comes to relays I hope swimming community is going to have a serious conversation about which relays belong to where. Having both the original relays and mixed relays at the long course World Championships is just too much.

The short course World Championships are a correct place for new experiments. These well established relays are one of the highlights for many at the long course meetings but, let’s face it, their short course counterparts are under the shadow of the long course ones. I admit I don’t even remember which countries medalled in relays in 2012, Istanbul and I do follow swimming. A long relay, I mean 4x200m, doesn’t seem to fit at all in short course meetings. It just doesn’t work in a short pool and should be cancelled in the first place.

In my opinion mixed relays have a good opportunity to gather much needed attention to swimming as it’s a modern way of thinking. I hope FINA doesn’t ruin this excellent opportunity by flooding the meetings with relays. A great first impression is important. One opportunity would be the relay schedule that is used at the European short course championships currently. It’s a good mix of mixed and gender relays without competing against the original relays which belong to the schedule of the European long course Championships.


As for 50’s I must continue a bit. There is sometimes an argument that they (50’s) are too similar to 100’s. Is it really so?

Winners in Barcelona:

Freestyle 50/100: Cielo / Magnussen; Kromowidjojo / Campbell
Backtroke 50/100: LaCourt / Grevers; Jing / Franklin
Breastroke 50/100: CvdB / Sprenger; Efimova / Meilutyte
Butterfly 50/100: Cielo / le Clos; Ottesen / Sjöström

If we looked at positions behind the winners, it would got almost the same impression. So my argument goes as follows: 50’s and 100’s are more different from each other than 100’s and 200’s or 200m and 400m free/IM.

Craig Lord

So no return to the 400m breaststroke then 🙂

Lennart van Haaften

Usually longer distances become more similar, i.e. the factor 2 between subsequent distances should be higher at longer distances. E.g. in the freestyle, 50, 100, 300, 1200 would be nice progression if you could ignore history and redesign the schedule from scratch.
At the Olympics where you have 2 distances per stroke, it’s a bit strange to have them so close to each other (100 and 200). This has historical reasons; in the distant past we used to have only 100 back, 200 breast, 100 free, 400 free, 1500 free. Later the `gaps’ were filled leaving us with a somewhat illogical program. 100 and 300 in the strokes would be better. The IM (200 and 400) is fine as it is, 600 would be too long (?).

I agree that at SC worlds 800 free and no 1500 free would be an improvement. Also scratch the 4×200. at LC, the 800 free is not very valuable, even harmful if it keeps the likes of Sun and Ledecky away from the 200.

6 relays per meet is enough for me, FINA could consider an alternating schedule. E.g. mixed relays replacing one or two same-gender relays every other WC. This could be considered for individual distances too, there is no reason to have exactly the same program every meet.

Lennart van Haaften

By the way, it is often overestimated how often swimmers win multiple individual golds at the Olympics, at least for men. Spitz and Phelps are the only men to have ever won more than TWO individual golds at one Olympics. No men has ever won precisely 3 individual golds at one OG (though quite a few women have). In track and field or gymnastics it is much more common to win more than 2: 9 gymnasts and 7 athletes (including Ewry twice).

So Phelps’s individual 4, 5, 2 series is really outstanding, even his overall London performance (including relays) is better than anyone’s except Spitz and Biondi and perhaps someone I’m forgetting right now.


400m breastroke must come back. Matti Mattsson will be very good at it. 😉

Lennart, nice facts with regard to individual gold medals. I may need those when I find myself arguing about the easiness of winning medals in swimming.

Open water swimming has embraced similar progression of consecutive distances which you just suggested: 5km, 10km … 25km. A pool swimming is definitely a prisoner of its own history as to mixing middle distances. However, it’s not too late when it comes to 800 free. By the way, 1500 meters isn’t even double of it.


Yes, intelligent, considered coverage as always, thanks SwimVortex.

The events issue is quite a fraught one. I think bringing the men’s and women’s olympic programme into line is the first priority and that must surely mean dropping the women’s 800m.

And following that line of thought, I don’t think the 800m makes much sense at the world’s either. Both the 1500m and 800m for men and women were quite similar at Barcalona with the 1500m arguably making for the greater spectacle. The 100, 200 and 400 still seem sufficiently distinct.

Really not sure about the 50m strokes. Unlike the 100m, it is a pure anaerobic sprint and so attracts a completely different breed of athlete. And there’s an attractive simplicity in seeing who can do a length quickest in each stroke. But it’s such an anticlimax to watch!

As for the relays it’s worth experimenting a bit more with mixed relays seeing how that evolves tactically. It could be a real dead-end however. I would certainly drop the 800m free relay as I find it incredibly boring, rarely a tight finish.

Rob Trimbee

To the individual who commented about running both the 800 and 1500 and now mixed relays, same players, etc., as they do now for masters competition. By adding additional swims to the schedule and more importantly not extending the length of the meet, organizers are forcing superstars to choose. It becomes less likely they will be able sign up for a high number of events as they have in the past. Because of the additional qualifying swims, fresher competition and greater specialization, the chances of the same individuals reaching the podium are in fact reduced.


I don’t agree with all those interesting points of view.

First, as a follower of both athletics and swimming, I can see there are much more multimedallists in the pool. It’s sometimes difficult to explain where is the interest of seeing the same swimmer winning half the events… And of course, it’s impossible to compete in so much events in athletics (4 is the most, at the time, by a few). So it’s evident the most medalled olympians can only come from swimming or gymnastics

Second, the distances. I don’t think dropping the women 800 is necessary. Women and men have the same number of events, that’s what is important as for equality. Unless they say they want such a change. But there were only 23 starters for the 1500 at the WC, 38 in the 800 (35 and 34 in the men’s ranks). And why not dropping the men’s 1500 (just a joke…). Anyway, one of the two is enough at the WC (and the Olympics, of course)

As for the relays, I am afraid the mixed ones will be a curiosity much than anything else. More races,more medals… But the 4X200 must stay on the program. It shows much of the strengh of a country than the 4×100. The latter is very spectacular these last years, but one of the most thrilling relay in history was the 4×200 of the 1984 OG (and another one the 2 Germanys battle of 1986). I didn’t find the 4X2 boring at the WC and I hope Australia will soon recover to make it even more interesting. C’est la course des nations ! (the race of nations).


Thanks for your excellent comments.

LE GALL, I agree with you at least partially about the comparison between athletics and swimming. I also do follow both. Some of the events in the athletics are such that you can’t attend other events; like pole vault. That’s why we can’t count the number of medals but compare consecutive winnings etc. One could also ask if there is any sense to compare so different sports but I think we must do it if someone is declared the greatest Olympian ever. I still believe that swimming is becaming more competitive day by day and specialization will be important if one hopes to medal in the future. By the way, Bolt might have chances in 100, 200 and 400 and also in long jump.

It’s exactly as you put it that the 4x200m free relay is a showdown of the depth of nations. However, I think it’s the extreme version of it. For me it seems that 4×100 is also the race of nations. Normally only two countries are battling it out over the anchor leg. I am not sure but I do believe it was the first time now in Barcelona when there were four nations side by side over the last leg, and it was probably the greatest and most exciting relay I’ve ever seen.

Mixed relays have a chance of becaming more interesting as it’s easier for smaller nations to have two elite male and female swimmers than the whole quartet of one gender. Of course it’s not always so and the biggest swimming nations will be tough to beat also in mixed relays as their top two male and female swimmers are just incredible. How about Australian 4×100 mixed squad: Magnussen, McEvoy and Campbell sisters. Huh, a life is not going to be easier for Finland in mixed relays :).

Lennart van Haaften

Hi Le Gall. Before Phelps came around, four Olympians shared the record for most Olympic gold medals: Nurmi, Latynina, Spitz, and Lewis. Two athletes, one swimmer, and one gymnast. You seem to be biased when you state “So it’s evident the most medalled olympians can only come from swimming or gymnastics.”

I mentioned before that it is often overestimated how many gold medals swimmers actually win, both in a single games as in a career, and especially the men. Phelps was the the first male swimmer (and second swimmer overall) to win more than four individual gold medals in a career. He really is the exception with his current total of 11; he stands out among swimmers by a mile, and even went well beyond the most medaled athletes and gymnasts.

Lennart van Haaften

By the way, just dropping the women’s 800 free at the Olympics is not considered as far as I know. The idea is the replace it by the 1500. Then men and women have identical schedules. The 1500 bridges the gap between the 400 m and 10 km much better than the 800.

Craig Lord

The IOC have already given warning: no additions… so the 800 w free would be replaced by the 1500… and that is what the USA has proposed


Thank you Lennart and Swimfan Finland

As for the number of medals, I can’t see how an athlete can win 11 individual events : Lewis won 7 (in 4 OG, and he was lucky Pedroso was injured in 1996) and should have won the 100/200/LJ treble 4 times in a row to do better than Phelps. Impossible.

Even Bolt, who is an outstanding athlete, won’t go further than 6 or 7 individual wins, I think. Doing 100/200/400/ LJ and the two relays (compare to 3 in swimming…) need some “extra” help to avoid injuries (much more frequent in athletics, which is more traumatic). And adding the 400 to the 100/200/LJ need a way of training yet to be found and an adapted schedule.

Nurmi won 9 golds, but thanks to cross-country and 3000 team events (“only” 4 individuals of the current program), which are not held since the 1920s. Same thing for Ewry.

There is no way an athlete can compete in eight events at an OG. So the discussion can go on and on, and I’ve had it many times. But it is fun to talk about it.


LE GALL, why would that have been impossible for Lewis, but 11 golds is possible for a swimmer? With the second highest total for a man being 4, and only one other single games total over 2, 11 is as big an outlier in swimming as 11 or 12 would be in athletics.

Bringing up Bolt as an example is misleading, as while he is, of course, an outstanding athlete, brilliance does not equal range.

Ultimately extra relays would concentrate medals on the leading nations and perpetuate the idea of big hauls being easy in swimming – particularly with the practice of counting heat swimmers.

The standard of great swimmers is gold in individual Olympic events. I would argue that Phelps was the greatest athlete,not because he has more medals than anyone across all sports, but because he has more than doubled the top grade achievements of anyone else in HIS OWN sport. That level of dominance in your own area is what no one else seems to match.

Lennart van Haaften

Thanks Le Gall, and I agree that it is hard to see an athlete winning 11 individual golds. I leave out relays because swimmers do have an advantage there, with 3 relays involving 100 and 200 meter distances. So it’s not about matching 8 golds, which I agree will be more difficult for an athlete than for a swimmer.

But as felixtzu pointed out, prior to Phelps 11 individual golds, such a performance was seen as impossible, just like 11 golds in athletics ii s still seen today, given that no male swimmer had won more than 4 in a career, while in athletics several have (Ewry 8, Lewis 7, Nurmi 6). Phelps did the unthinkable and nearly tripled the previous top achievement. Perhaps in track a truly outstanding and especially versatile athlete could win 100/200/110 hurdles/LJ twice and then some more in a third or even fourth Games. To me this would be less of a shock than Phelps’s 11. Athletes also seem to have more longevity, with a few winning individual gold in 4 different Olympics. Phelps was the first male swimmer to win individual golds in three Games.

Then again, in general it’s best, and most fair, to compare athletes and swimmers within their own sports. Even then lots of disagreements occur (different eras mostly).


I’ll stop here about the greatests olympians. Everyone can have is preference. But you pointed out something essential : the difference between the eras. In swimming, there were only 10 events on the men’s program in 1964. And the 200 free was not on it, probably depriving Don Schollander of a unique treble (I must say I think freestyle is the predominating swim, and I regret that Phelps didn’t choose to compete more in that style).

Back to the future : is it sure that the 1500 will replace the 800 for the womem at the next OG ?

Craig Lord

No, not sure. It is a proposal but one that has a fair chance of getting through because men and women would have the same prog for the 1st time in history (olympics)

Le Gall

Thank you Craig.

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