Teenage and triumphant, swimming looks to DohaSince he became the first Korean to win a gold medal in a major international swimming competition, Park Tae-hwan, 17, has spring-boarded his way to fame. It helped, of course, that he has since added another gold to his collection.
Park, a student at Kyunggi High School, took the first gold in men’s 400-meter freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, Canada, on Aug. 20 (Korean time) and won another gold in the 1,500-meter freestyle. During the 400 meter final, he set an Asian record of 3 minutes 45 seconds 72. In the 1,500 meter race ― his specialty ― he finished in 15 minutes, 32 seconds. He also won a silver medal in 200 meter freestyle.
After the 400 meter race, Park said, “The record was better than I expected. I’m very satisfied.”
Park’s record for 400-meter freestyle is behind the world record set by the Australian Ian Thorpe (3 minutes, 40.08 seconds), but Park is still young and making speedy progress, leading some to believe he might someday become the first Korean swimmer to be an Olympic medalist.
Two years ago, Park was disqualified during the preliminaries at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games because he jumped the gun; at that time he was the youngest athlete on the Korean national team.
When he was five years old, Park suffered from asthma. A doctor recommended starting swimming, so his mother took him to a pool. His asthma disappeared, but he had also found a hobby.
Two years ago, when Park became a member of the national team, he was 1.74 meters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall. Now Park is 1.81 meters tall and weighs 69 kilograms and is still growing. However, Park is still considered small compared with Thorpe (1.95 meters) and the American swimmer Michael Phelps (1.93 meters).
The Korean swimming team’s manager, Kim Bong-jo, said Park has superb left-right balance. Most swimmers tend to have problems with their balance when stroking: Right-handers tend to tip rightward while left-handers tilt to the left. The imbalance causes a loss of energy and speed. According to Mr. Kim, Park puts equal emphasis on his left and right hands.
Park is currently in a weight-training regimen in order to improve his overall physique, but more specifically to make his strokes stronger.
He says his next goal is to win gold medals at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, this December.
by Sung Baik-you