Sun Yang was a surprise absentee in the men’s 1500m freestyle heats on Saturday as the world-record holder again opted out at the world aquatic championships.
A Chinese official told reporters the decision was taken to ‘protect his health’ as Sun has complained of tiredness.
Despite his no-show, the 25-year-old Chinese giant trained on Saturday and is due to race in the men’s 4x100m medley relay on Sunday.
Sun has a history of dropping out of the 1500m at the 11th hour at world championships.
He was a no-show for the men’s final in 2015 after citing heart problems during the warm-up.
After winning freestyle golds over 200m and 400m in Budapest, Sun had complained of fatigue before flopping in the men’s 800m freestyle final on Wednesday.
He finished fifth, 8.10 seconds adrift of winner Gabriele Detti of Italy.
In Sun’s absence, Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk was the fastest qualifier for Sunday’s 1500m final in 14 minutes, 44.11 seconds.
Defending champion Gregorio Paltrinieri was right behind at 0.20sec.
Australia’s Mack Horton was the seventh fastest and 15.13sec off the pace.
“It was a slow heat, I felt pretty good early on,” said Horton, who won silver behind Sun in last Sunday’s 400m final.
“I’ve just been doing 1500 heats in the last couple of days to blow away the cobwebs after sitting around for the last couple of days.”
Elsewhere, Sarah Sjostrom used her frustration at missing gold by 0.04sec in Friday’s 100m freestyle final to blast her way into the 50m freestyle semis.
Sjostrom clocked 24.08sec as the fastest into Saturday’s semis.
“I’m still disappointed about the silver last night, so it’s nice to only swim 50 this time,” she said.
“I just need to keep that speed and swim fast when it matters.”
Denmark’s Pernille Blume, bronze medallist over 100m on Friday, was second fastest at 0.24sec.
“It was a fine feeling for me. It was a powerful swim but I didn’t sprint at all,” said Blume.
Japan’s Junya Koga was the fastest into the men’s 50m backstroke semi-finals, touching the wall at 24.54sec.
France’s Camille Lacourt, the defending champion was second quickest at 0.04sec behind.
“I’m happy with the way it’s going, there’s a bit more left,” said Lacourt, 32.
“I just want to do the job now in the semi-final.”
China’s Xu Jiayu, who won the men’s 100m backstroke gold on Tuesday, and America’s Matt Grevers, 32, the 100m silver medallist, clocked a joint third fastest time at 0.24sec.
Russia’s Yuliya Efimova and America’s Lilly King resumed their battle royal in the women’s 50m breaststroke heats.
King sparked a war-of-words at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics by dubbing Efimova a “drug cheat” following the Russian’s 16-month doping ban, which ended in 2015.
In Budapest on Tuesday, King won the women’s 100m breaststroke final in a world record time, while Efimova took bronze.
The Russian extracted an impressive revenge on Friday by blasting to gold over 200m, finishing two seconds clear of the field.
King faded to fourth after leading early on.
On Saturday morning, America’s King was the fastest qualifier into the 50m semi-finals, clocking 29.76sec with Efimova just 0.23sec behind her and the pair both avoiding questions.
The Netherlands were the fastest qualifiers in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay heats in 3:23.89 with the USA just 0.04sec behind.
Canada, Hungary, Japan and Australia all made it safely into Saturday’s final.
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