Park finally gets back in the swim

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Park finally gets back in the swim

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Park Tae-hwan checks his time after a 200-meter freestyle qualifying race at the Asian Games in Incheon last Sept. 21. [NEWSIS]

Olympic gold medalist Park Tae-hwan, who is serving an 18-month ban for doping, is set to begin training Monday after the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation (KSPO) gave a green light for the 25-year-old to use its swimming pool in Seoul.

The only Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal was banned by FINA, the sport’s international governing body, in March after testing positive for testosterone last fall. The suspension is retroactive to Sept. 3, when Park’s urine samples were collected, and ends March 2, 2016.

Under FINA regulations, an athlete serving a doping suspension “cannot participate in a training camp, exhibition or practice organized by his or her Member Federation or a club which is a member of that Member Federation or FINA or which is funded by a governmental agency.”

This prevented Park, who hopes to compete in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, from using pools at the Jincheon and Taeneung National Training Centers.

Park has said he needs to train in an Olympic-sized 50-meter (164-foot) pool, but most of those are government-funded and open only to qualified athletes.

When looking for a 50-meter pool, Park contacted his former coach Roh Min-sang in a bid to train with Roh’s swimming club, which practices at the Olympic Swimming Pool in Songpa District, southern Seoul.

The public pool is associated with neither the Korea Swimming Federation nor the Korean Olympic Committee.

Sports bodies are prohibited from involvement in his training or providing any kind of support, such as financial or administrative assistance.

The World Anti-Doping Agency ruled Park could use the Olympic Swimming Pool as a Korean citizen if it is open to the public.

Since early this month, Park and Roh have been waiting for a decision by KSPO, operator of the Olympic Swimming Pool. The foundation finally approved the request on Wednesday after receiving approval from all of the members of Roh’s class.

At the Olympic Swimming Pool, the two-time Worlds champion will swim as a member of Roh’s class, paying a monthly membership fee.

As Park’s coach, Roh helped the swimmer reach the pinnacle of the sport. After taking the job of coaching the national team in August 2006, the 59-year-old was his coach when Park won three Asian Games gold medals in 2006 in Doha, Qatar, and three more in 2010 in Guangzhou, as well as a gold medal in the men’s 400-meter freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Roh stepped down from the national team in January 2011.

“Park has not been swimming for the past six months,” Roh told reporters earlier this month. “His muscles have weakened, and we have to start from there.”

Meanwhile, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) on Wednesday confirmed that Park will lose the silver and five bronze medals he won at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games because of his doping.

In individual events in Incheon, Park was second in the men’s 100-meter freestyle and third in the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle.

He also competed in three team relay events, which means his teammates will lose their medals, too.

With the OCA decision, Korea’s medal count in the 2014 Asian Games dropped to 79 golds, 70 silvers and 79 bronze.

However, despite losing six medals, Korea maintained its second-place position after China.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]
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