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Sun Goes Down


Sun Yang's swimming career came to an abrupt end this week with an 8-year suspension handed down for his second anti-doping violation.

By: Swim Express
Published: March 3, 2020
Last Updated: March 3, 2020
Keywords: Sun Yang, doping

Mack Horton (center) and Sun Yang (left) on the podium at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games

Sun Yang's swimming career has spanned more than a decade. He's the most decorated swimmer in Chinese history. NBC Sports described him as "arguably the greatest freestyle swimmer of all time".His international breakout performance came at the 2012 London Olympics where he won gold medals in the 400m and 1500m freestyle, a silver medal in the 200m freestyle and a bronze medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay. In London, he also improved his 1500m freestyle world record by over three seconds.At the 2012 Olympics, Yang became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic Gold in swimming. His international swimming career spanned more than a decade. He went on to become a three-time Olympic gold medlaist, an eleven-time world champion and the first male swimmer in history to earn Olympic and World Championship gold medals at every freestyle distance between 200 and 1500 meters.In 2014, only two years after his breakout performance at the 2012 Olympic Games, he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He was banned from competition for three months by the Chinese Swimming Association (CSA). The ban was considered to be a relative 'slap on the wrist' since it didn't keep Yang out of any major competitions. The ban did, however, label Yang as a 'drug cheat' that followed him for his career and set up years of controversy that followed.The controversy came to a head in 2019 at the World Championships when Australian swimmers Duncan Scott and Mack Horton refused to share a podium with Yang who won the 200m and 400m freestyle events. Duncan tied for the bronze medal in the 200 and more notably, Mack Horton won the silver in the 400.They refused to share the podium with Yang partly because of his 2014 doping suspension, but mainly because only months prior to the World Championships, Yang was embroiled in another doping violation. This time it was an out-of-competition test at his home in September of 2018. It was reported that Yang smashed vials of his blood samples in front of anti-doping testers. This particular incident was beyond the pale for even casual spectators of the sport, and was considered absolute heresy by his chief rivals—Scott and Horton.FINA1 recommended only a warning, but not a suspension over the incident. The World Anti-Doping Agency sought a suspension and appealed FINA's ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Last week CAS handed Yang an 8-year suspension which effectively and abruptly ends his swimming career.As the Sun sets on Yang's career, the spotlight turns on FINA. The CAS appeal highlighted the problem with FINA: They are both sports promoters and anti-doping arbiters. These two functions are naturally at odds with each other. The Yang case severely damaged FINA's reputation.FINA was caught in a very uncomfortable position of defending Yang in the vial-smashing case. On one hand, FINA gives lip-service to 'clean sport' and 'fair competition'. On the other, they defended the most egregious drug cheat of the modern swimming era in the most blatant anti-doping violation imaginable.The International Olympic Committee—if serious about maintaining the integrity of competion—should immediately review all contracts with their sports federations and make certain there is a firewall between the two functions: sports promoters and anti-doping arbiters.Anti-doping agencies need to be truly independent bodies. In future doping cases, FINA should be asking for a quick, fair and independent investigation into the matter instead of defending potential cheats. FINA had contradictory incentive to suspend Yang; they should avoid such conflict in the future.There have been discussion recently about setting up a middle body between FINA and the anti-doping agencies dubbed an "Integrity Commission" that will make decisions about who to investigate and prosecute for doping offenses. Whatever the decision, this function should be completely out of the control of FINA, predictable and transparent.FINA needs to fix this problem quickly to restore their own reputation and maintain the integrity of swimming competition.

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