Swimmer Park Tae-hwan experienced a nightmare start to the London Olympics over the weekend when he was disqualified from the final of his signature race before the contentious decision was subsequently overturned.
Park ended up with a silver medal in the men's 400-m freestyle final on Saturday (local time) after clocking a time of 3:42.06. The gold went to China's Sun Yang, who set a new Olympic record of 3:40.14.
"It was a rollercoaster day. I feel like all the hardships I went through over the past three years came up in one day," said Park, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the event.
He was disqualified for false starting in a preliminary heat held in the morning in London, but was reinstated after 4.5 hours as Korea appealed the decision. Cornel Marculescu, executive director of the sport's governing body FINA, delivered the news. He said that even though Park twitched his shoulders before the starting gun went off, it was not intentional and did not affect the race.
Kwon Se-jeong, manager of Park's team, said, "Park didn't get any rest for those four hours because of what he was going through. His form was obviously badly affected, because he couldn't even eat lunch properly. But he managed to grab the silver by doing his best in a race he was almost robbed of. Park led for three quarters of the race at a world-record pace, but was caught by Sun after the final turn. He wasn’t able to pull off his signature spurt in the final stage of the race, like he did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and finished in second place, 1.92 seconds behind Sun."
Korea's team doctor Suh Dong-won, an orthopedic surgeon, said, "When an athlete gets a psychological shock, their heart rate and blood pressure increases, and excessive muscle tension causes fatigue and accelerates the consumption of energy. It's very possible that Park lost his pace due to this whole fiasco."
When interviewed after the final, Park said, "I have no regrets as I did my best. I want to congratulate the winner, Sun." When grilled on the appeal, however, the strain finally showed as Park struggled to fight back the tears.