Kazan: China`s world record holder and Olympic champion Sun Yang was a shock withdrawal from the 1500m freestyle final at the world championships Sunday with Italy`s Gregorio Paltrinieri snatching the title.
Paltrinieri clocked 14 minutes, 39.67 seconds to claim gold with Connor Jaeger of the United States taking silver at 1.53secs, while Canada`s Ryan Cochrane was third at 11.41.
But the biggest shock of the night came with the swimmers still on the blocks as Sun failed to show, leaving the third lane empty of the event`s world record holder, Olympic and world champion.
Chinese officials said the 23-year-old star swimmer, who had already retained his 400 and 800m freestyle world golds, was suffering from "a medical complaint".
Sun was only the third fastest into the final from Saturday morning`s heats behind Paltrinieri`s quickest time.
Paltrinieri admitted he was bewildered by Sun`s absence.
"I never saw him today, I don`t know (what has happened)," said the 20-year-old Italian.
"I saw him yesterday. We were thinking it will be nice on Sunday, he would have been in the lane next to me.
"It was really disturbing for me without him, I was afraid to compete alone.
"I wanted to win this race and without him it was a really tough race, but I am really happy now."
Bronze medallist Jaeger said the swimmers had been in the dark about Sun`s absence before the race.
"I didn`t want to get my hopes up, but he wasn`t there and I was like `oh, he is probably just messing with us or something like that`," said the American.
"Standing up on the blocks and he still wasn`t there I was thinking `wow, is this really happening`.
"I hope he is not sick or injured and is okay for the next race.