Park Tae-hwan returns home with medals, lessons learned

December 19, 2016

INCHEON, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) — South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan made a triumphant return home Monday, having added multiple international titles to an already impressive resume and also learned some valuable life lessons.

Park arrived home after capturing three gold medals at the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships two weeks ago in Windsor, Canada, and four titles at the Asian Swimming Championships in Tokyo last month.

The short course championships are held in a 25m pool, half the length of Olympic-sized venues. Park won the 200m, 400m, and 1,500m freestyle races in his first short course worlds appearance since 2006. In Tokyo, Park was victorious in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1,500m free.

These victories capped off what has been a tumultuous year for the 27-year-old. After his 18-month doping ban ended in March, he took the national Olympic committee to an international court for the right to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in August.

He won the legal battle, but the 2008 Olympic 400m champion had a disastrous showing in Brazil. He failed to make it out of the heats in the 100m, 200m and 400m free, and withdrew from the 1,500m.

South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on Dec. 19, 2016.

South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on Dec. 19, 2016.

Park then bounced back to win two races at the National Sports Festival in October. Then at the Asian championships, Park picked up four gold medals.

His 200m freestyle winning time in Tokyo, 1:45.16, would have netted Park the silver in Rio.

Park told reporters gathered at Incheon International Airport that he was pleased with the way he ended his year.

“I was down on myself after Rio, but I am so happy to have finished the year well, from the National Sports Festival to the short course championships,” Park said. “I’ve never been on an actual roller coaster, but my swimming career and my life have been on one so many times. Along the way, I’ve learned so much, and I am thankful for that.”

He said the key to his turnaround has been confidence.

“In Rio, I put so much pressure on myself, and both my mind and my body felt heavy,” Park added. “But I was able to relax afterward. As I started to regain my confidence, I started posting good times.”

And as Park turned his career around, fans who once pounded him for his poor Olympic results grew more supportive — especially after learning he’d been on the wrong side of an influence-peddling scandal.

After the Asian championships, Park said former vice sports minister Kim Chong had blackmailed him into giving up on his Rio Olympic dreams in May. Kim is a key government figure implicated in the scandal centered around President Park Geun-hye and her long-time confidante, Choi Soon-sil. Kim resigned from his post in the wake of the controversy.

Park said he was “honored” to prove he still had what it takes to win.

“It would have been devastating not to win those titles with all that went on,” Park said. “The whole country has had difficult times, and I am glad to have brought the people some good news from the pools.”

Park said he is “spent” mentally and physically, and he will take some time before deciding on his competition schedule for next year.