Park ready for rematch with his Chinese rivals

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Park ready for rematch with his Chinese rivals

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Park Tae-hwan gets set for the 200-meter freestyle against Sun Yang and Zhang Lin on Sunday night. [YONHAP]


Coming off an impressive win in the 200-meter freestyle on Sunday night, Park Tae-hwan is set for a rematch with his rival Zhang Lin in the 400-meter freestyle today at the Aoti Acquatics Center in Guangzhou, China.

Adding to the intrigue is the emergence of 19-year-old Sun Yang from China, who has the third fastest time in the 400 meter race. The competition is expected to be close as Park and his two Chinese rivals boast the three fastest times in the world this year.

The 400-meter event is considered Park’s strongest. The 21-year-old Korean swimmer won his first international title at the 2007 Melbourne World Swimming Championships and followed that up with a gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Park Tae-hwan is the best competitor in the freestyle 400-meter event in the world,” said Park’s coach Michael Ball.

Despite his strong performances in the freestyle 400 meter, Park faces a tough challenge in the pool today against China’s hometown hero Zhang.

Zhang was projected by many as the better of the two until 2005, but Park made a name for himself at the 2006 Doha Asian Games by placing first in the 200, 400 and 1,500-meter freestyle events while setting new Asian records. Zhang would finish second in all three races.

It was a repeat performance at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games as Park placed first in the 400-meter race with a time of 3:41.86, an Asian record back then, while Zhang finished 0.58 seconds short of Park.

More determined than ever, Zhang dominated Park at the 2009 Rome World Championships. While Park failed to qualify for the 400-meter final, Zhang placed first with a new Asian record of 3:41.35. He would also place first in the 800-meter race with a new world record.

Zhang said in interviews following his impressive performance at the Rome World Championships that he motivated himself by posting a photo of Park on his bedroom wall as a reminder of his loss in Beijing.

Now Park is ready to reclaim the title and looks to be on pace to do so. Park regained his form by posting the fastest time in the world this season with a 3:44.73 in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Irvine, Calif. in August. Zhang recorded the second best time in the event this season at 3:44.91, while Sun is third with 3:45.22.

Park placed first in the 200-meter event ahead of Sun on Sunday night while Zhang finished fourth overall.

“This is merely the first event, but after getting off to a great start, I feel good about my chances in the other races,” said Park on Sunday night. “Regardless of the result of the race, I’m sure the two Chinese swimmers trained very hard and I think merely competing against such swimmers created a positive result.”


By Jason Kim, Lee Eun-kyung [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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