Park launches final effort to compete in Olympics

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Park launches final effort to compete in Olympics

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Disgraced Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan is making a desperate, last-ditch effort to compete in the Olympics.

It’s been confirmed that he has recently appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), an independent institution that provides services to athletes and related organization for coming to a settlement in case of a dispute. Although the decision of the CAS is non-binding, Park hopes that a favorable ruling will put pressure on the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) to allow him to compete in Rio.

It is not known when the CAS will disclose its ruling, although there is a July deadline for selection for the Korean swimming team.

While the appeal is being heard, no one can doubt Park’s swimming skills. During the last month’s second round of an Olympics trial, Park proved to everyone that no one can replace him in swimming in Korea. He dominated the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and 1500-meter freestyle.

Not only did he win all four events, but he was the only swimmer in Korea who clocked “A” standards of the International Swimming Federation (FINA). In his main event, the 400-meter freestyle, Park timed 3 minutes and 44.26 seconds, ranking him fourth in the world this season.

According to the rules set by the KOC, Park cannot take part in the Rio Olympics after being banned by FINA, the international governing body for swimming, in September 2014. Although he served his 18-month suspension after testing positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition test, he is blocked from joining the Olympic team as KOC rules stipulate that an athlete suspended for a doping offense cannot be listed on the national team roster for a period of three years after the ban expires.

However, some believe the KOC ruling is double jeopardy as Park has already served his penalty.

“Suspension by FINA on Park has expired,” said Kim Eun-guk, a professor at the Korea National Sport University. “KOC ruling is a double jeopardy. It is unjustifiable that the KOC limits his shot at the national team roster.”

The precedent supports Kim’s argument. In 2008 International Olympic Committee made a so-called “Osaka Rule,” which banned athletes from participating in the next Olympics even after their suspension due to doping ended. However, in 2011 the CAS ruled that it is unfair to punish athletes twice for a single infraction and called for the expulsion of the rule.

“Park’s spent enough time for self-reflection during suspension,” said Roh Min-sang, Park’s coach. “It is a part of sports that an athlete fails, despairs and gets back up.”

The case is even being discussed at the National Assembly by the sitting lawmakers. “The respective national team regulation was made hastily. It needs to be reviewed,” said Ahn Min-seok, a lawmaker for the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea.

Those who call for Park’s exclusion say that the rules cannot be changed to make an exception for a single athlete.

“No athletes that have been caught doping admitted in the past that they exploited drugs and illegal substances in order to enhance their performance,” said Jung Yong-cheol, a professor at Sogang University.

“I would like to ask the general public if it is the best scenario to allow Park back in the national team by undergoing as dramatic process as changing a current rule and see him with an Olympic gold.” said Choi Dong-ho, sports commentator and member of KOC’s fair sports committee.

“Park’s lost a chance to be in the Olympics but this does not mean his career has ended. As a sports star under the limelight by the public, he needs to be more careful.”

The KOC is also cynical about Park’s attendance in the summer games. Cho Young-ho, the secretary-general of KOC said, “We know that Park is a talent that comes around maybe once in a generation. However, we cannot be swayed by the sympathy and demolish an established rule.

“We need to set an example for the youths. Younger athletes could get an erroneous idea that they can be a national team athlete even if they violate a regulation as long as they are good,” he added.

Park Myung-kyu, KOC director for athlete’s village, said, “Regulations are made to be enforced and maintained. No one can be an exception.”

Kim Jung-haeng, the president of KOC, made a statement that he personally would like to see Park in Rio. However, the KOC says it is only a personal opinion where former athletes feel compassion towards their juniors. “Our official position is we select national team based on the regulation,” said a KOC representative.

BY SONG JI-HOON, PARK SO-YOUNG [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]

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