Sun Yang breaks oldest world record in swimming

July 31, 2011 - 8:44 AM
China World Swimming Championships

China's Sun Yang gestures after competing in a men's 1,500m Freestyle heat at the FINA Swimming World Championships in Shanghai, China, Saturday, July 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SHANGHAI (AP) — The swimming world championships ended with a bang Sunday when emerging Chinese standout Sun Yang broke the oldest world record in the sport — Australian great Grant Hackett's 10-year-old mark in the 1,500 meters.

Sun was just over two seconds off Hackett's 2001 pace with four laps to go, but accelerated on the final two laps to finish in 14 minutes, 34.14 seconds, improving on Hackett's mark of 14:34.56 set at Fukuoka, Japan.

"I was not obsessed with the world record before the final, because I wanted to focus on my plan," Sun said. "My goal is to win the gold. I'm so grateful to the whole Chinese team, including my coach and my parents as well, and I think the world record belongs to all of them."

Fifth-place finisher Chad La Tourette of the United States said he was "just happy to be a part of it."

"I knew he was going to be close at the 800," La Tourette added. "That was a fantastic swim and it really just kind of sets himself apart as a once-in-a-generation type swimmer like Grant was."

The crowd at the Oriental Sports Center provided loud support over the final laps, erupting into more joy when the clock stopped four-tenths of a second inside Hackett's mark.

"That's a (great) record there," said another American, Peter Vanderkaay, who placed sixth. "I heard the crowd get into it the last 100, 200, so I knew he had to be close. That's an amazing swim. I tip my hat to him."

It was only the second world record to fall in swimming since high-tech bodysuits were banned 19 months ago — and Hackett's record had been the only mark to withstand the record deluge during the polyurethane era of 2008 and 2009.

American all-arounder Ryan Lochte set the first world record since the return to textile suits at this meet Tuesday in the 200 individual medley.

The two world records set in this eight-day meet were a sharp contrast from the 43 marks that dropped at the last worlds in Rome two years ago.

Lochte, the overall standout of the meet, also won the 400 IM Sunday for his fifth gold, edging silver medalist and teammate Tyler Clary by a massive four seconds.

"I'm glad this meet's over. It's been a long, long eight days," Lochte said. "Getting five gold medals is definitely great. The times I went, I know I can go faster."

Michael Phelps, meanwhile, finished with four golds after pushing the Americans in front during the butterfly leg in the 4x100 medley relay. Nathan Adrian held off a late comeback attempt by Australia's James Magnussen in the anchor leg.

The Americans won in 3:32.06, Australia took silver in 3:32.26 and Germany got bronze in 3:32.60.

Lochte wasn't included on the U.S. squad for the final relay of the meet.

In other events, 33-year-old Therese Alshammar of Sweden won the women's 50 free and American Elizebth Beisel took gold in the women's 400 IM. Another American, Jessica Hardy, reclaimed the 50 breaststroke title she lost two years ago during a doping ban and Liam Tancock gave Britain its second gold in as many nights in the 50 back.

The 19-year-old Sun also won the 800 free earlier in the meet, plus a silver in the 400 and a bronze with China's 4x200 relay squad. He is coached by Hackett's former mentor Dennis Cotterell.

Sun had already come close to Hackett's mark when he won at the Asian Games last November in Guangzhou, China in 14:35.43.

Upon breaking Hackett's mark, an exhausted Sun celebrated mildly, then bowed to the crowd.

Ryan Cochrane of Canada wasn't far behind Sun for the first half of the race, then dropped back to finished second in 14:44.46, while Gergo Kis of Hungary took the bronze in 14:45.66.

During the 400 IM, Lochte was already in the lead by the time he surfaced following his initial dive off the starting block. He had a one-second lead after the opening butterfly leg and expanded that to two seconds over the backstroke and breaststroke legs before powering home in the freestyle to win by about two bodylengths.

As he exited the pool deck, Lochte tossed his two swim caps into an appreciative crowd. Clary clocked 4:11.17 and Yuya Horihata of Japan got bronze in 4:11.98.

Lochte leaves Shanghai having won all four of his individual events — beating Phelps in two of them. He took another gold, plus a bronze, with the U.S. relay teams.

Lochte also beat Phelps in two events at last year's U.S. championships, then won six golds to Phelps' five at the Pan Pacific Championships in 2010 — prompting Phelps' coach Bob Bowman to acknowledge that Lochte was the best swimmer last year.

Now it's fair to say Lochte has had the edge over Phelps this year, too, setting up an enticing duel at next year's London Olympics.

Alshammar, a four-time Olympian, won the 50 free in 24.14 ahead of two Dutch swimmers — Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Marleen Veldhuis. Defending champion and world record holder Britta Steffen of Germany withdrew earlier in the meet.

Hardy missed the 2009 worlds while serving a one-year doping ban, even though the Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted that she was not at fault for consuming a contaminated dietary supplement. She won in 30.19, 2009 winner Yuliya Efimova of Russia took the silver and another American, Rebecca Soni, got bronze.

Tancock's victory followed British teammate Rebecca Adlington's 800 free victory a day earlier, however his win won't create as much clamor going into next year's London Games because the 50 back is not an Olympic event.