(Reuters) – Sun Yang broke down in tears after claiming the second of a possible three distance golds with victory in the 800 metres freestyle and American teenager Missy Franklin captured her third title of the world swimming championships on Wednesday.
Olympic champion over 400 and 1,500 metres in London last year, Sun followed up Sunday’s world 400 title with an imperious performance at the hilltop Palau Sant Jordi, leading from the buzzer and pulling inexorably away in the final 150 metres.
The giant, long-stroking 22-year-old, who was unable to control his emotions at the medal ceremony, touched in a time of seven minutes 41.36 seconds with American Michael McBroom taking silver in 7:43.60 and Ryan Cochrane of Canada bronze in 7:43.70.
“Before the race I felt huge pressure,” Sun, who beat his chest as he saluted his supporters in the crowd on claiming victory, told reporters.
“When I touched first I was relieved and, yes, a bit over-excited,” he added. “The time was in the range I expected so I am totally satisfied.”
Sun is the second man only after Australian Grant Hackett to win world titles at 400, 800, a non-Olympic distance, and 1,500 metres.
While his triumphs have come at two different championships – Sun won the 800 and 1,500 in Shanghai two years ago and was second in the 400 – he remains on course to match Hackett’s three golds from the 2005 edition in Montreal.
The 1,500 metres freestyle final is on the final day of the championships on Sunday.
In her earlier race, Franklin showed why she has become the successor to Michael Phelps as the face of American swimming when she swept to victory in the 200 metres freestyle.
The 18-year-old with the bubbly persona and the beaming smile, who won four golds and a bronze in London, finished in one minute 54.81 seconds, adding to her golds in the 100 metres breaststroke and 4×100 freestyle relay.
Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, the 2009 and 2011 champion and world record holder, made a late charge but could not overhaul the American and took silver in 1:55.14. Camille Muffat of France won bronze in 1:55.72.
Franklin was delighted with her 200 freestyle triumph after she missed an Olympic medal by the narrowest of margins in 2012.
“I’m so happy, I couldn’t be happier,” she told reporters after beating her previous best of 1:55.06.
“I missed the podium in London last summer by one one hundredth of a second so to win gold here and go a best time is absolutely incredible.
“We knew (Pellegrini) has an incredible back half so I really tried to get out front my first 100 and then just hold on with everything I had.”
Franklin was due to contest eight events in Barcelona but pulled out of Wednesday’s 50 metres backstroke semi-finals, which she said she was swimming just “for fun”, to focus on the 200 freestyle final scheduled only 15 minutes later.
If the Americans dominated Tuesday’s session, when 16-year-old Katie Ledecky smashed the world record in the women’s 1,500 metres freestyle final by more than six seconds and Matt Grevers claimed the 100 metres backstroke title, Wednesday belonged to the South Africans.
Olympic champion Chad le Clos won the 200 metres butterfly gold, while Cameron Van Der Burgh edged the 50 metres breaststroke, a non-Olympic event, by one hundredth of a second from Christian Sprenger of Australia.
It was the first time South Africa have won two golds at the world championships in one day.
Le Clos, who had a shoulder injury at the start of the year, stunned Phelps to win the 200 butterfly title in London and he told Spanish television it was a shame the American, who retired after the Olympics and is in Barcelona as a spectator, was absent from the pool.
“Yes I did miss him, he is a great competitor,” said Le Clos, who has become good friends with his boyhood hero.
“This is very important to me,” the 21-year-old added as his father looked on tearfully from the stands.
“I’m very happy I won this gold. I was a bit out of shape… but I just wanted to win tonight and I’ve got the win so I’m very happy.”
Le Clos won in a time of one minute 54.32 seconds, with Pawel Korzeniowski of Poland taking silver in 1:55.01 and Wu Peng of China bronze in 1:55.09.
Sprenger pipped Van Der Burgh to win the 100 metres breaststroke gold on Monday but the South African, who is coming back from a knee injury, had his revenge with a blistering time of 26.77 seconds, a tenth outside the world record he set to win gold at the Rome championships in 2009.
Sprenger claimed silver in 26.78 and Van Der Burgh’s compatriot Giulio Zorzi, who joined his compatriot at the top of the podium for the national anthem, bronze in 27.04.
“One of the most special moments in a athlete’s career… And I got to share this with my best friend,” Van Der Burgh said on his Twitter feed. (Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid; Editing by John Mehaffey)