How dirty Sun Yang robbed his rivals blind

Spare a thought today for Ryan Cochrane.

Who?

Well, if not for Sun Yang and fellow convicted drug cheat Oussama Mellouli, Cochrane would be a swimming legend.

The Canadian missed out on five major gold medals behind Sun and Mellouli – one at the Olympics, four at world championships. Sun was responsible for four of those instances, including the 1500m freestyle gold at London 2012.

Cochrane was denied by two men with doping offences. And he wasn't the only one.

Sun left a long trail of beaten rivals during a glittering career that has now been thrown entirely into question. He was first busted for doping in 2014, when Chinese swimming initially covered up a three-month sanction for using trimetazidine that conveniently did not affect his Rio 2016 Olympics campaign.

Who knows if Sun was genuinely clean beforehand. His doping infractions are somewhat confounding, when you look at the facts. In the first instance, he tested positive for a substance only made illegal months beforehand by the World Anti-Doping Agency. In the second instance, he destroyed blood vials during a doping control; enormously suspicious, but he never tested positive for drugs.

What is clear is that Sun twice flouted anti-doping rules and has now paid the price, in the form of a ruinous eight-year ban from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

So here are the men who paid the price for what the fallen Chinese megastar did during his tainted career, which has reaped three Olympic gold medals and 11 world championship golds. Twenty-four major titles. Sun became a black hole that consumed many rivals.

Some of these swimmers are desperately unlucky. Others aren't so clean themselves.

RYAN COCHRANE

The Victoria, British Columbia product is perhaps one of the ultimate victims of doping in swimming and Sun was his chief tormentor.

Cochrane, who retired in 2017, finished second in the 1500m freestyle at the 2009 world championships in Rome. Mellouli was first, Sun was third.

There was already a major cloud over Mellouli, who served an 18-month doping ban just before the Beijing 2008 Olympics for testing positive to Adderall; the ADD medication, which is a form of amphetamine. The Tunisian claimed that he took a pill given to him by a schoolmate at college, while he stayed up all night completing a project.

Mellouli won 1500m gold at the 2008 Games, denying Grant Hackett a golden treble. The Australian great took silver and felt robbed, while Cochrane won bronze, his first Olympic medal.

Sun was not yet tainted by doping at Rome 2009. He went on to beat Cochrane into silver in both the 800m and 1500m at the Shanghai 2011 world championships, then again in the 1500m at the Barcelona 2013 worlds.

But London 2012 is the one that really hurts. Not that Cochrane knew it at the time. In fact, he was rightly ecstatic with his Olympics performance, figuring that he'd simply been beaten by an outstanding opponent.

"This is the happiest I've been after any race in my career," he said. "I was just so thankful to know that there's nothing else I could have done.

"The goal was to win but I'm happy to progress from the last two years. It shows that I'm in it. I have a little more work to do to catch Sun Yang, but I'm not out of it by any means."

Sun was still untainted at that stage, yet to record a positive doping test … but who knows? Cochrane can't help but wonder. If not for Sun, he would be an Olympic gold medallist and triple world champion.

"As an athlete, you are always trying to control every aspect of your life and this scenario is something that makes me uncomfortable to think about," Cochrane said last year.

"I would like to believe I swam my best race, against the best and clean athletes in the world. But anything beyond that is completely out of my control."

Sun broke Hackett's Olympic record (14:38.92) by taking gold at London 2012, clocking 14:34.14 to erase the Aussie's Beijing 2008 heat time.

His presence also gave Cochrane further heartbreak in the 400m. The Canadian finished ninth in the heat times, missing the final by one place and 0.01sec. Sun's 400m victory in 3:40.14 broke Australian icon Ian Thorpe's Olympic record from Sydney 2000 (3:40.59) and made him China's first male Olympic swimming gold medallist.

CHAD LE CLOS

The South African star has had a wonderful career. He won Olympic gold in the 200m butterfly at London 2012, beating Michael Phelps, and is a four-time world champion in the fly races.

But there's something different about being a multiple Olympic champion. It erases any doubt that you are an all-time great of swimming's biggest stage.

Le Clos was robbed of that undisputed status when he was beaten by Sun in the 200m freestyle at the Rio 2016 Games. He would have become a gold medallist in two strokes and he has been one of the most vocal critics of Sun since the Chinese megastar was banned.

"It's not only about me, it's about James Guy who got fourth in that race and whoever came ninth and 17th missed out on Olympic semi-finals and finals. It's a snowball effect," Le Clos told CNN.

"At the end of the day, you're killing generations of swimmers by not punishing these drug cheats. It's not for me to judge but of course I deserve that gold medal. I feel like they [FINA] should go back and have a look at some of the stuff that has happened."

https://twitter.com/chadleclos/status/1233360226142883841?s=20

Who was ninth in the 200m freestyle at Rio 2016, missing the final? Australia's Thomas Fraser-Holmes. Unlucky, yes, but he then served his own 12-month ban for missing three whereabouts doping controls after the Games.

The moment of triumph has passed for those who missed out, but Le Clos wants his due. He is adamant that Sun should never have been swimming at Rio 2016.

"He should be banned. It's as simple as that," Le Clos told the Associated Press, before Sun's eight-year sanction.

"Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

"Not for the moment. I lost that. I don't really care about that. It's just for my record. If I break my leg and I can't swim again I want my record to say, 'Two individual golds, two individual silvers.' Because that's what it should be."

JAMES GUY

The Bury, England swimmer has had a terrific career that includes a major victory over Sun. Guy beat him in the 200 freestyle at the 2015 world championships in Kazan.

Yet he was beaten into silver by Sun in the 400m at the same meet. And as Le Clos said, he was denied a bronze medal by Sun's presence in the Rio 2016 Olympics 200m.

Guy was shattered when he finished fourth at those Games. He was restrained with his comments on Sun, but showed support for gold medallist Mack Horton after the Aussie called his Chinese nemesis a "drug cheat".

"It's devastating really. Fourth is the worst place you can get," Guy said.

"I can see where Mack is coming from and I'm great friends with Mack.

"It's quite difficult. He (Sun) has done his time. FINA have said he's here. I'm going to race him. I can't say, 'You're not swimming'. He's here, I've got to deal with it and move on.

"That's what I've tried to do and unluckily I've come fourth.

"He (Horton) is speaking from the heart. I'm the opposite really – I keep things to myself. But that's Mack for you. He's a great guy."

Guy is a dual Olympic silver medallist, but each medal came in a relay. His other three world championships also came in relay events.

He offered a short, sharp take when Sun's ban was announced.

https://twitter.com/Jimbob95goon/status/1233321200480288768?s=20

He was also one of swimming's most outspoken figures when details of Sun's doping control violation came to light, having suffered loss at his tainted rival's hands.

https://twitter.com/Jimbob95goon/status/1089519096197197829?s=20

Guy is still just 24. Like Horton, he will have the opportunity to race in Tokyo 2020 without the spectre of Sun lingering over his races.

MACK HORTON

Australia knows this story better than any among this group of swimmers and it is tinged with triumph.

Horton famously beat Sun to the 400 Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016, having branded him a drug cheat before the race. He told Wide World of Sports last year that after taking that stand, he simply had to win.

"It definitely felt good. I didn't leave me with much of a choice [but to win], I don't think," he said, also saying that swimming needed to take a stand against Sun.

"Potentially. If it wants to remain credible."

Yet swimming, specifically its governing body FINA, never did stand up to the Chinese megastar. It allowed him to swim at last year's world championships in Gwangju, where he shamed the sport by winning gold in both the 200m and 400m freestyle.

At this stage, Horton will not receive that 400m gold medal. He was also beaten into silver by Sun at the 2017 world championships in Budapest, the Chinese swimmer's measure of revenge for Rio 2016.

It was left to Horton and British 200m bronze medallist Duncan Scott to denounce Sun in Gwangju last year, which they did by boycotting the podium topped by the Chinese megastar. Horton has insisted that it wasn't personal, and still isn't. He just wants clean sport.

"My stance has always been for a clean sport. It doesn't matter about nations or athletes. Nothing changes," Horton told Nine News after Sun's ban.

"[The ban] doesn't really matter. I just keep getting on with the job, to be honest."

Horton has paid for his stand against Sun in more ways than simply on the medal tally. He has been subjected to vile death threats from Chinese fans, while his former school reportedly declined to name its new aquatic centre in his honour, due to its business interests in China.

Yet he now has the opportunity to defend his Olympic 400m title in a field that will not include Sun, a known doping offender. Horton would emulate Thorpe in retaining the 400m gold if he can prevail at Tokyo 2020.

PAUL BIEDERMANN

The German 'Superman' is a little-known victim of Sun's, albeit from London 2012 when the Chinese megastar was yet to test positive.

Biedermann was a swimming phenomenon, though his own career was also somewhat controversial. His rise coincided with the 'super suit' era and he won the 200m-400m double at the 2009 world championships in Rome, using a swimming costume that clearly enhanced performance; another black mark against FINA.

Biedermann famously broke Thorpe's 400m world record in claiming gold, by just 0.01sec. He ended his career with seven world championships medals.

Yet for all that success, Biedermann never won a medal at the Olympics. At London 2012, the German 4x200m relay team placed fourth, behind Sun's China.

Biedermann was also the bronze medallist behind second-placed Sun in the 400m at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai.

PARK TAE-HWAN

The Seoul, South Korea swimmer would have matched Thorpe as a back-to-back 400m Olympic gold medallist if not for Sun's win at London 2012.

Park also placed fourth in the 1500m at those Games. He tied for silver with Sun in the 200m, which left American Ryan Lochte in fourth.

Park remains a one-off Olympic champion; a wonderful achievement, but with immortality gone begging. He also won two world championships in the 400m, at Melbourne 2007 and Shanghai 2011; beating Sun at the latter meet.

Then again, Park's own career was eventually mired in controversy. In 2015, it was confirmed that he had tested positive to an anabolic steroid, Nebido.

Park served an 18-month doping ban, though there is some conjecture around his fault in the incident and that of a doctor – later fined – who administered his injection. The doctor claimed that she was a "scapegoat", while Park admitted it was "all my fault" after receiving his ban from FINA.

CONOR DWYER

The American swimmer from Winnetka was a two-time Olympic gold medallist in the 4x200m relay, but his only individual medal was a bronze in the 200m at Rio 2016, trailing the victorious Sun.

Dwyer was also a triple relay world champion and won silver at Barcelona 2013 in the 200m behind French star Yannick Agnel. But like Sun, there is now severe doubt over his swimming achievements.

Dwyer failed a series of doping tests in late 2018, after having testosterone pellets surgically inserted into his body. He claimed that he had been given incorrect medical advice that the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee had approved the drug.

"Absent of these assurances, I never would have agreed to this medically necessary treatment," Dwyer wrote in a statement, calling his doping infraction "an honest but unfortunate mistake".

Dwyer retired after copping a 20-month ban that would have ruled him out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

THE OTHERS

American Peter Vanderkaay won bronze in the London 2012 400m freestyle. Perhaps it should have been silver. Perhaps it should even have been gold. He finished behind Sun and Park.

It was Vanderkaay's only individual Olympic medal, though he was a dual gold medallist in the 4x200m relay and also won four world championships in the event.

US compatriot Lochte might have added another bronze to his haul of 12 Olympic medals if not for Sun's presence in the London 2012 200m. Or perhaps silver, having finished behind Sun and Park.

Italy's Gabriele Detti claimed two bronze medals at Rio 2016. Perhaps he could have had silver behind Horton in the 400m, if not for Sun. His great moment came with an 800m world championship at Budapest 2017, when Sun curiously finished fifth.

There are possible victims everywhere you look. American Ricky Berens was ninth in the 200m at London 2012 and perhaps could have swum in the final if not for Sun. Compatriot Andrew Gemmell was ninth in the 1500m, missing the big race by one spot. Germany's Florian Vogel was ninth in the 400m at Rio 2016, denied a final swim.

Sun may even have robbed a fellow Chinese. Hao Yun finished fourth in the 400m at the London Olympics, a bronze medal gone begging.

Sun Yang's swimming career is over, barring a successful appeal to the Swiss Federal Court. It will take a long time to fully comprehend the impact of his sinister reign over men's freestyle swimming. He was the only man to have won every freestyle event from 200m to 1500m at both Olympic and world championship level.

We may never know exactly how many of Sun's medals were ill-gotten. And unless FINA gets its act together, those medals may never go to their rightful owners.

WWOS

BEST DEAL UPDATE: