By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- The Chinese swimming star Sun Yang shook off a finger injury on Tuesday to take his first gold medal at the ongoing Asian Games, holding off two rivals who'd also battled him in an earlier race.
Sun was crowned the men's 400-meter freestyle champ with 3:43.23, reasserting dominance in the event in which he won the Olympic gold in 2012 and the world title in 2013.
Sun defeated Kosuke Hagino of Japan and Park Tae-hwan of South Korea for his first career Asian Games gold in the distance.
Hagino had beaten Sun for the 200m gold on Sunday, and the Chinese star, who lost by 0.05 second, later blamed a left thumb injury for the narrow defeat.
Sun Yang of China celebrates his victory in the men's 400-meter freestyle swimming race at the Asian Games on Sept. 23, 2014. (Yonhap)
Sun skipped a relay event on Monday, but in the 400ｍ final, the 22-year-old showed no ill effects.
Sun, Hagino and Park were neck and neck over the first 300ｍ, before Park fell well off the pace and left Sun and Hagino to fight for the gold.
It was Sun who prevailed with a furious charge near the end. He covered his final 50ｍ in 26.44 seconds, faster than anyone in the final and 0.07 second better than Hagino, who'd also used a late burst of speed to beat Sun in the 200ｍ.
The victory in Incheon serves as a measure of redemption for Sun, too. After winning Olympic and world championship medals, Sun got into some issues outside the arena.
He was caught driving without a license in late 2013 and was suspended from the national team's activities. The ban was lifted earlier this year, by which time Sun, according to reports, returned to training out of shape.
Before Incheon, Sun's best time in the 400ｍ this year had been 3:45.12, the seventh fastest in the world and nearly two full seconds worse than Park's best of 2014.
Despite his adventures and protracted return to form, Sun was still seen as the main foe to Park.
To add more spice to their rivalry, Sun filmed a short commercial in China to publicly throw down the gauntlet, challenging Park to break his Asian record of 3:40.14.
Neither Park or Sun himself could go near that mark, which Sun set in winning the 2012 Olympic gold. At least the Chinese star walked the walk after doing that talk.
Sun's victory over Park here also has a twist of irony. At the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010, Park defeated Sun at the latter's home country in both the 200ｍ and 400ｍ freestyle. And when Park competed at home -- in an arena built in his honor no less -- Sun turned the tables on his South Korean rival this time.
Sun said afterward he was "excited" about his victory and nothing came easy for him.
"Today, the competition was not just between me and Park Tae-hwan," he said through an interpreter at his post-race press conference. "The three of us (with Park and Hagino), we swam fast, worked hard and truly competed against each other. As you know, I just injured my left hand. During the swim, I tried to not focus on the pain."