According to betting sites and foreign media, the odds are stacked against Korean swimming star Park Tae-hwan defending his Olympic title in the men's 400-m freestyle at the upcoming London Games. However, this lack of pressure may work in the swimmer's favor.
Park has set three goals at the London Games: a gold medal in the men's 200-m freestyle, gold in the 400-m free -- and also a new world record in his signature race.
Park will start his medal hunt on Saturday, when the 400-m freestyle title will be up for grabs. His Australian coach Michael Bohl named China's Sun Yang and Germany's Paul Biedermann as the main threats that could potentially sabotage Park's gold hunt. But he added that Park is in fighting form and capable of pulling off a new world record if everything goes right on the day.
Bohl's confidence was buoyed by Park's final three-week training session in Montpellier, southern France, where he performed well in simulation races. Since the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and last year's Swimming World Championships in Shanghai, Park has been working on increasing his muscular strength, which is now believed to be more than 10 percent stronger than it was two years ago.
Park has been scaling back the time he spends practicing since Wednesday, powering up and down the pool in the mornings and resting in the afternoons to make sure he is at peak strength on Saturday. Park used to swim up to 14,000 m a day, but has cut this back to less than 5,000 m so as not to burn himself out in the final few days of training. On Wednesday, he practiced in the next lane to his rival Sun.
Four years ago in Beijing, Park became the first Asian to win the men's 400-m freestyle at the Olympics. If he successfully defends his title, he will become the third person to do so after Australian swimming heroes Murray Rose, who won in 1956 and 1960, and Ian Thorpe, the victor in 2000 and 2004.
Sun holds the season's best time of 3 minutes and 42.31 seconds, while Biedermann holds the world record of 3:40.07. Park's personal best is 3:41.53, which he set at the Guangzhou Asian Games. But he hasn't beaten 3:44.22 so far this season.