June 19, 2017 10:42
Swimmer Park Tae-hwan will face his biggest challenge since the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Budapest next month. The event, Park's first world championships since Shanghai in 2011, is expected to draw most of the world's top swimmers, including Park's chief rival, world No. 1 Sun Yang of China.
Park returned to Korea last Thursday after four months of training in Australia. At a press conference in Seoul the next day, he could not hide his confidence, saying, "I will come back with a gold medal, and I'm looking to set new personal bests."
Park has only improved with age, swimming the final 50 m of his favored event, the 400-m freestyle, faster in recent months than during the period considered to be his prime. A swimmer's performances in the first and final 50 m of a 400-m race are considered to determine the color of their medal. Park's signature has always been a strong final spurt that makes up for his relatively slow start.
At the Arena Pro Swim Series in May, Park won the 200-m, 400-m, and 1,500-m freestyle events. In the 400 m, he clocked 3:44.38, swimming the last 50 m in 26.27 seconds. This compares to 27.07 seconds for the final 50 m in his gold medal swim at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (3:41.86) and 27.14 seconds when he set his personal record of 3:41.53 at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. At the Rio Olympics, where he did not reach the final, Park swam the last 50 m in 27.50 seconds.
According to Park's longtime coach Roh Min-sang, these times show that "he has energy in reserve right up until the end. If he swims well at the start and in the middle of a race, Park can compete with the world's best and his own best."
"I still have regrets over the Rio Olympics," Park said. "But I've regained confidence as I have gotten closer to my personal best. I still think [a new PB] is possible."
The world championships kick off on July 14, with the swimming competition getting under way on July 23.
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