Swimming sensation Hwang Sun-woo chasing historic relay gold at Asian Games

February 8, 2023

South Korea has never won a swimming relay gold at the Asian Games. The country’s teen swimming sensation Hwang Sun-woo is determined to change that this year.

The 19th Asian Games will take place in Hangzhou, China, in September this year, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Korean swimmer Hwang Sun-woo speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Feb. 8, 2023, before departing for a training camp in Australia. (Yonhap)
South Korean swimmer Hwang Sun-woo speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Feb. 8, 2023, before departing for a training camp in Australia. (Yonhap)

Hwang, the reigning world silver medalist in the 200-meter freestyle, will be the gold medal favorite in his main event at the Asian Games, as well as the 100m freestyle. And in addition to individual glory, the 19-year-old said he would love to make history by winning a relay gold.

“It’s hard to pick one medal I’d like to win the most this year,” Hwang told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, before departing for Australia for a training camp. “I think the Asian Games will be the most important competition this year. And I really want to win the gold medal in the 4x200m relay and do something that has never been done before.”

South Korea’s best relay performance remains the silver medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games.

At last year’s worlds, Hwang and his teammates finished sixth in the 4x200m relay while setting a national record time of 7:06.93. It was the first appearance in any relay final by South Korea at a world championship.

“The Asian Games only come once every four years, and we’ve been gearing up for the event for quite some time,” he said. “We will continue to work hard for the Asian Games and bring home great results.”

That Hwang regards the Asian Games as the most important event of the year is telling, considering he will also compete at the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in July.

He won silver in the 200m free at last year’s event in Budapest to become the first South Korean swimmer since Park Tae-hwan in 2011 to reach a world championship podium.

“At this year’s worlds, I think I will be in the 100m and 200m freestyle. I don’t know how high I will finish, and my primary focus is on improving my personal best,” said Hwang, whose top 200m time is 1:44.47. “In the 4x200m relay, we will try to improve on our sixth-place finish from last year.”

Hwang will be working out at Miami Swimming Club in Gold Coast under the watchful eyes of Richard Scarce.

The former Australian national team coach has worked with Olympic and world championships medalists, such as Cameron McEvoy and Elijah Winnington.

The Korea Swimming Federation said it brought Scarce on the board to work with Hwang and other swimmers this month because of his expertise in short and mid-distance freestyle races.

Before the world championships last year, Hwang and his relay teammates trained with another Australian coach, Ian Pope, for six weeks in Melbourne.

Whereas the South Koreans trained exclusively with Pope last year, they will be joined by other swimmers at the Gold Coast club this time.

When told Scarces runs high-intensity training sessions, Hwang said: “I think it will help. Since we have the world championships and the Asian Games coming up this year, it’s important for me to keep working hard and stay resilient through the end.”