Park Tae-hwan ‘resurfaces’ as Asiad gold hopeful

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Park Tae-hwan ‘resurfaces’ as Asiad gold hopeful

GUANGZHOU, China - Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan is back in shape and should repeat as the Asian Games gold medalist in the men’s 200- and 400-meter freestyle races, his Australian coach said here Monday.

“I think Tae-hwan is in very good condition. He is in the best condition so far this year,” Michael Ball told reporters. “I feel he has resurfaced as a contender at the 200 and 400 freestyle.”

Park is scheduled to compete in the 100, 200, 400 and 1,500 freestyle races, in addition to team relay events, at this southern Chinese city.

Four years ago in the Asiad at Doha, Qatar, Park won gold in the 200, 400 and 1,500.

His first event is the 200 freestyle on Sunday.

Ball said Park’s preparation leading up to the Asiad has been “the best so far” in 2010 and the focus will be “to try to get him in the right mental state to compete.”

Said Ball: “He knows it will be very difficult and very tough. I am very much looking forward to the competition, and I am sure Tae-hwan is looking forward to the competition commencing as well.”

After struggling at the world championships in Rome last year, Park sought the help of Ball, a former Australian national team coach. They’ve been working together since January this year, and Ball said Park has responded positively to the changes in his environment.

“All athletes are different, and you need to find what stimulates athletes,” Ball said. “Moving to a different training environment can be positive or negative. For Tae-hwan [who trained in Australia], it’s been quite positive.”

Ball said Park trained with about half a dozen members of the Australian national team, and having that sort of competition helped the Korean.

“When you’ve got people competitive all the time, it’s a good way of getting the athlete to dig deep and to train at a very high level,” Ball said. “Tae-hwan relished it. He’s lifted because the training level [was] quite high. He enjoyed the challenge.”

Though there is a major task at hand for Park, Ball was already looking down the road for his 21-year-old pupil.

“My focus is continuing to improve Tae-hwan not only at this competition, but also through the world championships [in Shanghai next year] and the Olympics [in London in 2012],” Ball said. “Tae-hwan, in my mind, is still very young. He still has a lot of improvements left in him.”

At this year’s Asian Games, Park will have to contend with a strong Chinese contingent in freestyle races, led by Zhang Lin.

In 2006, Park won gold medals in the 200, 400 and 1,500 freestyle races, with Zhang the runner-up in all three events.

Park added a silver and three bronze medals.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Zhang was once again second behind Park as the Korean won gold in the 400 freestyle.

But the tables turned the following year. Zhang set the world record in the 800 freestyle and added a bronze in the 400 freestyle at the world championships.

Park failed to reach the finals in all of the races he entered.

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