Olympic swimming champion Park Tae-hwan set a new Korean record of 14 minutes and 47.38 seconds in the men's 1,500-m freestyle at the New South Wales State Open Championship in Sydney on Sunday. In doing so, the 22-year-old shattered his own record of 14:55.03 set at the Doha Asian Games in December of 2006.
Park, who became the first Asian to swim under 15 minutes at the event in Doha, has not been able to make much progress since then. He had to settle for a silver medal at the Guangzhou Asian Games in November of 2010, when he clocked 15:1.72 to trail winner Sun Yang of China by 26 seconds.
In the past year, Park has mostly focused on the 200-m and 400-m events, just using the long-distance 1,500 m as a means of building endurance for the 400 m. At the World Championships in Shanghai last year, Park also chose not to compete in 1,500 m.
The latest result in Sydney suggests that his long-term training program in Brisbane has paid off and taken his endurance level to a new high. He competed in the 1,500-m race after finishing third in the 50-m freestyle final some 50 minutes earlier, when he clocked 22.74 seconds to finish just 0.01 second shy of his personal best.
Despite the short rest, he cruised to victory in the longer event and never looked in danger of surrendering the race to runner-up George O'Brien, who posted a time of 15:23.80.
Park's new record would have placed him fifth at last year's Worlds, 13 seconds behind Sun Yang, who won with a new world record of 14:34.14 seconds. However, it is not far behind third-placed Gergo Kis of Hungary, who picked up a bronze medal in Shanghai by blazing home in 14:45.66 seconds.
Park, who is aiming to defend his Olympic title in the 400-m freestyle at the London Games this summer, now has a realistic shot of also medaling in the 1,500 m at the quadrennial event.
Park, who bagged a hat trick of gold medals in the 200-m, 400-m and 1,500-m races in Sydney, was scheduled to return to Korea early this week to attend his graduation ceremony from Dankook University on Thursday. He will head back to his training base in Brisbane on Sunday.