Tokyo - China's Sun Yang, the 'enfant terrible' of
competitive swimming, is set to undergo another test of his fragile temperament
at the world championships after a turbulent 2016 Rio Olympics.
Likewise, there will be nowhere for Joseph Schooling to hide
in Budapest this month after he stunned Michael Phelps to win Singapore's
first-ever Olympic gold last year.
Bad boy Sun spearheads China's assault and will be looking
to exact revenge after Australian Mack Horton robbed the hulking Chinese star
of his Olympic 400 metres freestyle in Brazil.
Emotions boiled over after a pulsating final in Brazil when
Horton branded Sun a "drug cheat" - a reference to a three-month
doping ban his rival served for taking a banned stimulant Sun said was for a
The pair traded insults, triggering a diplomatic row with
Chinese state-run media calling Australia a "second-class citizen" of
the West, before Sun bounced back to win gold in the 200m.
Expect sparks to fly again in Budapest with Sun and Horton
set to lock horns in the 200m and 400m, as well as the 800m and 1 500m
freestyle - events Sun has dominated in recent years.
"As captain of Chinese Swimming team, I need to
shoulder more responsibility," the multiple Olympic and world champion
told Xinhua news agency.
"I must encourage my team-mates, help them steady their
mood and lead them to make breakthroughs in the world championships."
A notable absentee for China will be pin-up Ning Zetao, who
will not be in the Hungarian capital to defend his 100m freestyle world crown,
citing an abdominal injury after failing to qualify.
Xu Jiayu will compete, however, after taking Olympic silver
in the 100m backstroke behind American Ryan Murphy.
Schooling's shock Rio victory over Olympic legend Phelps -
who dead-heated for silver with Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh - in the 100m
butterfly final puts him firmly in the firing line in Budapest.
But the 22-year-old clocked 50.96 seconds in Austin, Texas
earlier this month, just 0.09 off American Caeleb Dressel's world-leading time,
to suggest he could be peaking at just the right time again.
"Caeleb has the fastest time this year but I am not
going to let anyone take that number one spot from me," Schooling told
With Phelps ending his storied career in Rio, Japan's Kosuke
Hagino has been tipped to take over as the world's premier medley swimmer.
The 22-year-old won gold in the 400m medley in Rio but was
comfortably beaten by the great American in the 200m final.
Whether or he can convert Olympic gold and silver into
double gold in Budapest could depend on countryman Daiya Seto, who has had
Hagino's number in recent domestic competitions.
Seto, who took bronze in Rio over 400m, is chasing a hat-trick
of world titles in the longer medley after capturing gold in Barcelona and
Japanese schoolgirl Rikako Ikee, a five-event national
champion, will be another name to watch in the freestyle and butterfly.