INCHEON South Korea (Reuters) - Four years later, back at the Asian Games where it all began, Sun Yang reminded the world he still has no equal in long distance swimming.
The Chinese sensation successfully defended his 1,500 metres freestyle title at the Incheon Games, coming home well ahead of his rivals, though in truth he had no competition.
Swimming well within himself, Sun won gold in a time of 14 minutes 49.75 seconds, well outside the world record of 14:31.02 he set at the 2012 London Olympics.
Japan's Kohei Yamamoto put up a spirited but ultimately fruitless chase, finishing more than five seconds adrift, and the pair had to wait almost 12 seconds more for Sun's team mate Wang Kecheng to touch home in the third.
Sun has had a rocky time since London, incurring the wrath of Chinese officials over his sponsorship deals and spending a week in jail for a driving offence.
However, in the safer confines of the pool, he remains untouchable over 1,500m, the longest and most gruelling event on the Olympic programme.
He won his first major international title at the last Asian Games four years ago and has been unsinkable since, chalking up two world titles and the Olympic crown.
Friday's victory gave him his third gold medal in Incheon, bettering his haul from Guangzhou in 2010, although it was anything but smooth sailing.
He was beaten in the 200m freestyle final by rising Japanese star Kosuke Hagino and injured his thumb when he hit the touchpad.
Sun pulled out of the 4x200m freestyle relay but resurfaced the next day to win the 400m. Then he won a second gold in the 4x100m freestyle in a rare plunge into sprints.
The 1,500m was a formality for the towering 22-year-old, who stands 1.98m (6ft-6in) tall and slices through the water with the grace of a dolphin but the killer instincts of a shark.
Sun has always been different from China's other top swimmers, as much a maverick as a pioneer.
While most of China's best swimmers prefer to keep a low profile, Sun just cannot escape the spotlight, courting drama and controversy wherever he goes.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Sun won the 400m and 1,500m double, becoming the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming title.
He was nearly disqualified for a false start in the 1,500m, losing his balance and tumbling into the water after an official aborted the start when someone in the crowd yelled out.
He was given a reprieve and went on to slash more than three seconds off his own world record to easily win gold.
With his victory came money, and plenty of it. He was showered with sponsorships and endorsements but the flood of cash came at a price.
In early 2013, he was suspended from engaging in commercial activities after missing training and breaching team rules, but he seemed unfazed about it.
Later that year, he was ordered to spend a week in detention after crashing a car that he had driven without a licence.
China's swimming authorities slapped a blanket suspension on him, banning him from all training and competition, but with the Rio Olympics less than two years away, he looks as formidable as ever.
(Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Writing by Julian Linden; Editing by John O'Brien)
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