Sun's got the talent, but does he have the heart?

Updated: 2012-07-27 08:08

By Reuters in London (China Daily)

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Sun's got the talent, but does he have the heart?

Proud and patriotic, China's Sun Yang is a worthy successor to distance swimming great Grant Hackett, but will find out in London whether he has the Australian's famed mental toughness, his coach Denis Cotterell said.

Cotterell, a shaggy-haired surfing enthusiast from Australia's Gold Coast, was the mastermind behind Hackett's Olympic gold at the 2000 Sydney Games in the 1,500 meter freestyle and his successful title defense four years later in Athens.

Cotterell (pictured) now stands on the brink of another coaching triumph, with 20-year-old world champion Sun the favorite to win the 1,500 in London, and a leading contender to upset reigning South Korean champion Park Tae-hwan in the 400 freestyle.

Despite Sun's credentials, Cotterell feels nervous for his swimmer and reluctant to talk too much - both for fear of adding to the massive pressure already on his shoulders and for upsetting his Chinese paymasters.

He cannot help but lavish praise on the rangy pin-up boy of Chinese swimming, however, describing him as big kid "with a bit of cheek".

"There's a lot of Hackett in Sun," a tired Cotterell told Reuters in a phone call from his flat in the Athletes' Village.

"He has a lot of passion for the sport and a passion for speed. We'll see whether he can be tough as Grant. He's superior technically, but toughness is a rarer quality.

"You didn't get tougher than Grant - all the great swimmers like Alex Popov and Pieter van den Hoogenband will attest to that.

"(Sun's) got races ahead of him that will define his character further."

Cotterell's legacy as a principal architect of Australian dominance in the 1,500 - the gruelling iron-man event of the pool - is assured, but his new role in Sun's corner has not been universally cheered in his home country.

The Australian watched his swimmer smash Hackett's decade-long 1,500 world record in the world championship final in Sun's home pool at Shanghai last year. Hackett lamented the record as Australia's loss.

Australia's achievements in the pool are part of the country's Olympic folklore, but the swim team is expected to struggle to win more than two titles in London and could post its worst medal haul in decades.

Sun-led China, however, is on the rise with the help of foreign coaches, who have included American Mike Bottom, who trained 200 butterfly specialist Wu Peng to a bronze in the world championships.

"To a little degree you could say (the criticism's) fair," said Cotterell, who has welcomed dozens of Olympic hopefuls to his Miami Swimming Club in the Gold Coast.

"I'm prepared to coach people who turn up and are prepared to do the work. It's a tough program.

"Training Sun and the Chinese has kept me interested in the Games. It's re-affirming that my program is still valid and that it can still produce results."

Sun will bid to become China's first male swimmer to win Olympic gold but has yet to perform on the biggest stages overseas, with his two greatest titles coming in home pools.

He announced himself with a blistering swim to win the 1,500m gold at the 2010 Asian Games in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, before trouncing all comers at the Shanghai World Championships last year.

(China Daily 07/27/2012 page11)