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A rivalry based on respect

Updated: 2014-09-25 05:20
By SUNXIAOCHEN in Incheon, South Korea (China Daily)

A rivalry based on respect

China's Sun Yang (right) raises the arm of rival and thirdplace finisher Park Taehwan of South Korea after winning the 400m freestyle final at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Tuesday. LEE JINMAN / ASSOCIATED PRESS

'Hostility' with archrival just a media creation, explains Sun

Chinese swimming star Sun Yang and his South Korean counterpart Park Taehwan always appear as hostile rivals in TV commercials and newspaper headlines but in reality they share respect and admiration.

Sun and Park enjoy thunderous cheers when entering the pool and both are routinely mobbed by domestic media and followed by diehard supporters chanting their names everywhere they go. Their success has attracted a legion of sponsors.

The mutual conviviality between the stars was apparent after the 400m freestyle final on Tuesday when, after they shook hands in the pool, Park tapped Sun on the chin to congratulate him for winning.

The scene created a sensational buzz on Chinese social media, with the picture being forwarded more than 13,000 times on Sina Weibo, China's major microblogging platform.

A similar scenario unfolded on the opening day of the swimming competition when Park patted Sun on the head after they both missed out on the 200m free gold medal, which was won by Japan's Kosuke Hagino.

Although losing to Sun at marquee events for the third consecutive time after the 2012 London Olympics and 2013 World Championships, Park said he still enjoys the "frienemy" rivalry with Sun.

"Racing against him is one of the proudest moments of my swimming career. Whoever wins deserves to be congratulated," said Park, who won the 200m and 400m frees against Sun at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010.

Sun, who wept after losing to Park by a fraction of a second in the 400m free in Guangzhou, finally gained his revenge at the Asian Games in the pool named for the Korean star.

"Me and Park don't have that kind of tense relationship with each other as reported by the media. We don't start fights with each other," said the 22 year old Sun.

"He's been nice (to me) and we often communicate with each other after a race. I follow his updates on social media so we are actually friends away from the pool. The head to head hostility is played up by the media."

Still, Sun's tongueincheek words in a series of television commercials claiming he would outperform Park in Incheon heated up the rivalry before the Asiad as some Korean media interpreted Sun's remarks as outright provocation.

In one commercial, Sun said: "Mr Park, you are the pride of Korea with countless numbers of fans. Eventhepool is named after you. But so what? Don't let me win too easily."

Some of the figures in Korean swimming circles, such as Park's former coach Roh Minsang, claimed in a recent interview that the commercial was too aggressive as went against sportsmanship. But Sun said it was nothing but good natured ribbing to promote his sponsor's brand and he had nothing to do with the advertising idea.

The Korean public seems to buy it. Yoo Jeeho, a reporter with Korea's Yonhap News Agency, said most Korean fans took it positively.

"People have seen the commercial here but they don't get mad as they know it's just a joke," said Yoo, who's been following the Sun-Park rivalry since 2010.

"I think they help each other to stay motivated and they both enjoy high recognition in each other's country."

Similar experiences and even setbacks have also helped build a connection between the swimmers.

Bringing his country its first Olympic gold in swimming in the 400m free in 2008, Park shot to stardom in Korea just as Sun did after the 2012 London Games.

Due to tensions with the Korean Swimming Federation over training philosophies, Park parted ways with longtime coach Roh, who steered him to gold in Beijing, and quit the federation's system to train in Australia under Michael Bohl in early 2010.

Sun, considered a maverick in China's Staterun systemfor his individuality, broke with longtime mentor Zhu Zhigen after the London Games and trained Down Under with renowned coach Denis Cotterell.

Sun and Park will catch up with each other in the countdown to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"Hopefully, together we will stand tall for Asian swimming at the big events," said Sun.


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