'Too sexy': China groupies swoon for swim king Sun Yang
Jakarta, posted: Sat, August 25, 2018 | 09:05 pm
He's been labelled a "drug cheat" and appears to revel in his reputation as swimming's enfant terrible -- but Chinese beefcake Sun Yang is making the sport sexy again.
The mean and moody 26-year-old is followed around the world by a small army of groupie cheerleaders who treat him like a rock star when he strides out for his races.
He has 32 million followers on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, and with his hulking frame, the controversial Sun is a true force of nature.
To the fans who fork out thousands of dollars to follow him, squealing and waving banners bearing cartoon images of the three-time Olympic champion, he's just a big softie -- albeit a hunky one with rippling muscles.
"Sun Yang is very sexy," 22-year-old Qu Zhiuan told AFP at the Asian Games in Jakarta, where their hero stormed to gold in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 metres freestyle.
"He has eight abdominal muscles," gushed the grad student, surrounded by Sun Yang memorabilia.
"But he's also cute and approachable. When you see him on TV shows, he cracks lame jokes with the audience," she added.
"He's not arrogant, he greets his fans -- he even cries."
Sun has been supported by around 80 die-hard fans for his races in Indonesia who audibly swoon when China's biggest sporting idol waves in their direction.
But being a swimming groupie is an expensive hobby -- just ask investment banker Dong Qiong, who has spent an eye-watering $15,000 on travel and hotels since 2016.
"I never miss Sun Yang's races, or his appearances on TV," said the 24-year-old, who boasts numerous photos taken with the star swimmer and claims to have shared a dinner with him.
"I keep accounts. It's a painful amount of money. I think if I keep chasing him like this, by the time he retires I will have spent roughly the down-payment on a flat!"
Dong insists, however, that Sun is worth it.
"He has said he has to perform well because his fans spend a lot of money and travel a long way to see him," she said.
"He dedicates his results to us so it makes me feel that he fights so hard partly because of his fans."
Read also: Asian Games: Swimming for glory between China and Japan
- V-shaped body -
Recent high school graduate Yang Siyuan agrees -- but admits his sex appeal helps.
"One of the biggest reasons I love Sun Yang is his spirit, although obviously he's a hunk too," giggled the 18-year-old.
"He has long legs and a perfect V-shaped body, but there's no conflict between sexy and cute," she insisted.
"He's a genuine guy. When Sun Yang wins he's happy -- and I will be happy if he's happy."
The young women's Jakarta hotel room is cluttered with Sun Yang photos, stickers and flags, many signed by the man himself.
All four belong to the "official" Sun Yang fan club, which they say has around 80,000 members, although many more exist.
One of their passionate number has followed Sun since the 2012 London Olympics.
"I began to love this big kid who liked to cry," said Yang Lu, who has screamed herself hoarse in Jakarta.
"It was very inspiring. He never gives up, even when he's injured."
Sun competed with a fractured foot at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he scooped gold in the 200m free.
However, he was savaged by rival swimmers over a three-month doping ban he served a year earlier for taking a medicine prescribed to treat heart palpitations.
To fans of Sun, such vitriol was unforgivable.
"The Australian media in particular are not very friendly," huffed Dong, who says she wants to mother Sun.
"Whenever Chinese swimmers do well, they cry foul. It disgusts me actually.
"Maybe in daily life, Sun Yang is too simple and easily tricked. I feel like I want to give him a big hug.