Swimming: 5 Asians to watch at the world championships

Swimming: 5 Asians to watch at the world championships
PHOTO: The Straits Times

TOKYO - Ahead of the world swimming championships in Kazan, Russia, from August 2-9, here are five Asian names to look out for:

SUN YANG (CHN)

The bad boy of Chinese swimming, Sun will be looking to add the world title to his Olympic gold medal in the men's 400m freestyle after a helter-skelter couple of years which also saw him banned for three months for a doping offence.

Stunned by Japan's Kosuke Hagino in the 200m at last year's Asian Games, the Chinese giant courted more controversy by poking fun at the Japanese national anthem before exacting revenge on Hagino over eight laps.

While still struggling for his best form, Sun will be hot favourite to emulate his Olympic gold medal in the 1,500m at the 2012 London Olympics, when he set a new world record of 14 minutes, 31.02 seconds - a mark which still stands.

Striding out to the pool deck in gold headphones, Sun cuts an imposing figure and can be all but unbeatable when in the mood and will carry the flag for Asia in the absence of Hagino (injury) and South Korean Park Tae-Hwan (suspension) in Kazan.

YE SHIWEN (CHN)

Having sent shockwaves through women's swimming at the London Olympics, Ye bounced back from a spell in the doldrums by completing the 200 and 400m individual medley double at last year's Asian Games.

Ye's eye-popping world record swim in the Olympic 400m final set tongues wagging after she stormed through her final lap quicker than men's champion Ryan Lochte, triggering accusations of doping, before the 16-year-old added the 200m title in London.

Her success proved something of a poisoned chalice and she flopped at the last world championships in Barcelona during what she described as her "nightmare year" in 2013.

Despite winning the Chinese nationals earlier this year, Ye has yet to hit peak form and China could struggle to match their haul of five gold medals in Spain.

YASUHIRO KOSEKI (JPN)

Shooting to fame after beating Japan's golden boy Kosuke Kitajima at last year's Japan Open, Koseki has the physical attributes to become a world-beater in the breaststroke, but questions linger over his temperament.

Having pushed multiple Olympic champion Kitajima to the brink of retirement and inflicting further psychological damage on Japan's 200m world record holder Akihiro Yamaguchi, Koseki's glass jaw was subsequently revealed at the Asian Games in South Korea where he failed to win a gold medal.

A gold medal double at last year's Pan Pacific championships in Gold Coast gave a truer reflection of Koseki's undoubted ability and he should be among the contenders pushing for top honours in Kazan.

Kitajima, Koseki's idol growing up, has tipped Japan's new sensation for great things and, with Hagino sidelined, much of the expectation will fall on the 23-year-old's shoulders.

JOSEPH SCHOOLING (SIN)

Put tiny Singapore on the map by capturing gold in the men's 100m butterfly medley at the Asian Games and backed that up by winning nine gold medals in front of a partisan home crowd at the Southeast Asian Games earlier this year.

While his winning time of 51.76 seconds at the Asian Games will hardly strike terror into his rivals in Kazan, the 20-year-old will be one to watch as he looks to continue a hot streak after becoming the first swimmer from Singapore to win a Commonwealth Games medal last year.

A student at the University of Texas, Schooling's impressive progress since the London Olympics has catapulted him to fame in the city state, and will have Japan's Takuro Fujii and Chinese rival Li Zhuhao in his sights in Russia.

And a young talent to watch out for: DMITRIY BALANDIN (KAZ)

The soft-spoken Kazakh made history at the Asian Games by completing a breaststroke treble, his country's first in a major swimming competition.

Blasting to Games records in the 100 and 200m, Balandin was one of the standout performers in South Korea as the former Soviet republic announced itself on the world stage after previous success in boxing, cycling and weightlifting.

Balandin's performances in South Korea left regional heavyweights Japan and China scratching their heads and suggested he could be a dark horse looking to get among the medals at the world championships closer to home.

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