Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.
Park Tae-hwan (or “Marine Boy” as he is commonly known as in South Korea) has accomplished a lot at the somewhat tender age of 23. On his resume you’ll find that he has attended 3 Olympics, is the first Asian to win gold in the 400 (yup, even before Sun Yang clobbered everyone in 2012), is the first Korean to win a medal of any color in swimming, while also bucking the idea that you need to be a healthy 6’5 to be a successful freestyler on the international stage.
Here are 8 random facts about Park Tae-hwan–
1. He crowd-funds his training.
Forget sponsors, stipends from swimming federations, or even milking the folks. During the spring of 2013 Tae-hwan crowd-sourced 70 million won ($60,000 US) so that he could go train with Michael Bohl at St. Peters Western in Brisbane, Australia.
In the fall of 2012 Anthony Ervin did something similar, starting a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $10k to attend the World Cup circuit. He was successful – raising over $12k.
2. Tae Hwan is ranked the number 6 most popular celebrity in South Korea according to Forbes.
In the list drawn up by Forbes, Tae-hwan placed sixth, narrowly beat out by by the band “Big Bang” at #5 — a platinum selling boy/man-group who is fronted by “G-Dragon,” and ahead of Song Joong-ki, a TV and film actor. (Told you these were going to be fun facts!)
3. He is the first Korean swimmer to win an Olympic medal in swimming.
Beijing was not the first Olympics for Tae-hwan, although it was the first time he’d completed an event at the Games (I’ll explain in a minute). He displayed remarkable range by winning the 400m freestyle in in a time of 3:41.86 and a silver behind the Phelpsonian one in the 200m free in 1:44.85.
He would win another two medals in London, both silver, in the same events.
4. He has arguably the best Wikipedia profile picture among swimmers.
The picture says playful, handsome, and fast swimming all at once.
5. He isn’t immune to getting his heart hurt.
Last summer he went on South Korean talk show SBS’s Healing Camp and disclosed that after his historic performance at the Beijing Games he found himself surrounded by ladies. Lots of ladies. Even the famous ladies.
But he conceded that a less-than-stellar set of performances in the year following Beijing changed that, “when my performance dropped in 2009, all these people slowly disappeared. I was somewhat hurt from that. The people who used to contact me stopped, and even when I contacted them first, they wouldn’t respond.”
To which the host of the program Lee Kyung-kyu promptly apologized on behalf of all the celebrity ladies.
6. He was the recipient of the “You-are-DQ’d-No-You’re-Not-Just-Kidding!” Award in London after being disqualified in the prelims of the 400 free.
During the preliminaries of the 400m freestyle in London Tae-hwan would apparently false start (even though video replays clearly showed he didn’t leave the blocks early), getting himself disqualified. The South Korean Olympic officials immediately appealed. Ironically (or not, depending on whether or not you’re wearing a tin foil hat today) the official who DQ’d Tae-hwan was Canadian (the DQ was based on what the official saw, and not what the time pads registered), and the DQ allowed 9th place finisher Ryan Cochrane of Canada to slide into the finals.
After the FINA Jury of Appeal met they reinstated Tae-hwan, and he would go on to win a silver medal in the event behind Sun Yang of China.
Coincidentally, at the 2004 Athens Games Tae-hwan fell off the blocks in the prelims of the 400m freestyle. Just 14 years old at the time, the DQ was doubly heart-breaking as it was his only swim of the meet.
7. After London 2012 Tae-Hwan reported for four weeks of basic training with the South Korean army.
While most South Korean men are required to undergo 2 years of military service, Tae-hwan obtained an exemption based on his performance at the 2006 Asian Games where he collected 3 gold medals. Despite the exemption, he still had to complete basic training. After buzz-cutting his hairdo he completed the 4-week combat training in the fall of 2012.
8. He bucks the perception that you have to be gargantuan to be a successful freestyler.
His remarkable range aside – Tae-hwan is competitive in nearly every distance of freestyle – he also doesn’t fit the mould of the stereotypical freestyler. He isn’t close in height to Yang (6’6) or Agnel (6’8), but that doesn’t seem to matter. Of all the finalists in London in the 200m and 400m freestyle, the six foot, silver-medal-winning Tae-hwan was the shortest.
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