Park Tae-Hwan became the first and remains the only Korean swimmer to win an Olympic medal when he claimed a gold and silver at the 2008 Olympics. He became a national icon, with sponsorship deals, a pool named after him and was granted exemption from completing two years of mandatory military service. But in January 2015 it was confirmed he had tested positive for testosterone. Tae-Hwan has remained adamant that a doctor administered an injection containing the banned substance after telling him there would be no problem.
His swimming journey began aged five, when doctors advised his parents to put him in swimming to control asthma. Two years later, he began competing and by aged 16 he won his first international medals. He became well known for his freestyle versatility, competing internationally in 100 meter freestyle up to 1500 meter freestyle.
At just 14 years old, Tae-Hwan had a disappointing start to his international career. At the 2004 Olympic Games, he fell in to the pool before the 400 freestyle and was disqualified. A few months later, he picked up silver in the 400 freestyle in the Swimming World Cup.
With a few international races under his belt, Tae-Hwan was back on deck for a busy year in 2006. At the World Short Course Championships, he added two more silver medals to his collection in 400 and 1500 meter freestyle. At the Pan Pacific Championships a few months later, he was named the Pacific Rim Male Swimmer of the Year for his 2 gold and a silver medal performance at the meet. He rounded the year off at the Asian games, where he became the most successful athlete at a single games with 7 medals. He won three golds in 200, 400 1500 freestyle, a silver in the 100 meter freestyle and three bronzes in relays.
With a growing collection of international medals, Tae-Hwan was quickly becoming one of the most dominating freestylers in the world. He really proved himself at the 2007 World Championships.
2007 FINA World Championships
In an impressive field, Tae-Hwan had an even more impressive win. For the first 300 meters he was switching between 4th and 5th, but in the final 100 meters he turned up the heat. After turning 4th at the final 50 he made his move, gaining distance with each stroke. With a final 100 meter split of 53.51, he overtook 4 people to take gold in 3:44.30 in a new Asian record.
He also added a bronze and another Asian record in the 200 meter freestyle, finishing in 1:46.73.
2007 Swimming World Cup
Tae-Hwan competed in 200, 400 and 1500 freestyle at the World Cups in Sydney, Stockholm and Berlin. In the nine races, he won gold all nine times.
2008 Olympic Games
Competing at his second Olympics at just 18 years old, Tae-Hwan had come along way since his disappointing debut. This time he had experience on his side. South Korea and the whole of Asia had high expectations for the teenager. This time he was ready.
First up was the 400 meter freestyle, which was shaping to be his best event. This time his race strategy was different to his World title performance. He took the lead early and held on the whole race. Tae-Hwan touched for gold in 3:41.86 to become Korea’s first Olympic swimmer to claim a medal and the first Asian swimmer to win 400 meter freestyle.
Fresh off his first Olympic title, Tae-Hwan was back in action in 200 meter freestyle going up head-to-head against Michael Phelps. Phelps was the clear leader but Tae-Hwan was in a tight race with Peter Vanderkay for silver. He was able to stretch in front in the final few meters to take silver in 1:44.85.
2009 FINA World Championships
Tae-Hwan had a shocking World Championships in Rome. His best finish came in 1500 meter freestyle finishing 9th. He failed to reach the final in 200 and 400 meter freestyle, finishing 13th and 12th respectively.
2010 Pan Pacific Championships
In California, Tae-Hwan had regained his form and was back on the podium. He took gold in 400 meter freestyle and silver in 200 meter freestyle.
2010 Asian Games
With the same race schedule as four years prior, Tae-Hwan managed to do one better this time around. He defended his titles in the 200 and 400 meter freestyle and also moved up one position to take gold in 100 meter freestyle. In the 1500 meter freestyle he wasn’t able to defend the gold and settled with a silver. In the relays, he helped South Korea to one silver and two bronze.
2011 FINA World Championships
After his bad performance at the championships two years before, Tae-Hwan wanted to prove himself again as the best in the world. The race was tight for the first 200 meters, but Tae-Hwan did as he did four years previously and powered home for the last half of the race. At 300 meters he had a good lead which continued to grow until he touched home in 3:42.04 to reclaim his title.
2012 Olympic Games
His hopes for defending his 400 meter freestyle Olympic title was almost dashed when he was disqualified for a false start in the preliminaries. South Korean officials appealed the disqualification and after review it was clear he didn’t false start and Tae-Hwan was reinstated in the finals. In the final he finished second behind Sun Yang.
In 200 meter freestyle, Tae-Hwan was head-to-head again with Yang, but this time the battle was for silver. The pair weren’t able to be split and both touched in 1:44.93 to tie for silver.
2014 Pan Pacific Championships
In Queensland, Australia, Tae-Hwan became the first swimmer to win an event three times after defending his 400 freestyle title from 2010 and 2006. He took the gold in 3:43.15
Tae-Hwan tested positive for an anabolic steroid prior to the Asian games in 2014. He claimed the fail was due to an injection administered by a doctor who said that their was no banned substances in the injection. His 18 month ban ended March 2, 2016 Just in time for the Korean Olympic Trials.
Tae-Hwan was back racing after his run suspension but had a poor showing at the Olympic Games upon his return. He failed to make the final in 100, 200 and 400 meter freestyle and he pulled out of the 1,500 meter freestyle.
2016 World Short Course Championships
After a disappointing Olympics, Tae-Hwan redeemed himself at the World Short Course Championships in Windsor. He won gold medals in the 200, 400 and 1,500 meter freestyle setting a championship record in the 200 meter freestyle in 1:41.03 and the championship and Asian record in the 1,500 meter freestyle in 14:15.51.
2017 World Championships
Tae-Hwan was in action on day one in the 400 meter freestyle where he finished 4th in the final in 3:44.38. In the 200 meter freestyle he finished 8th in 1:47.11.