Although Hwang Sunwoo had been breaking Korean national records in the lead-up to Tokyo, it was at those Olympic Games where the now-19-year-old introduced himself to the world.
There at the age of 18, Hwang raced his way to two Olympic finals, ultimately finishing 5th in the men’s 100m free and 7th in the 200m free.
Post-Olympics, Hwang became the short course world champion, taking the 200m free title in Abu Dhabi last December.
As the dust from those performances had settled and with the 2022 FINA World Aquatics Championships on the horizon, Hwang looked overseas along his journey to Budapest in the quest for additional glory.
The Korean Swimming Federation (KSF) sent Hwang, Lee Hojoon, Kim Woomin and Lee Yooyeon to Melbourne, Australia for a 6-week training camp, the first time the organization has undertaken such an endeavor without a corporate sponsor.
Arriving on April 20th and staying until June 2nd, the aforementioned 4-person squad turned to Melbourne Swimming Club’s Ian Pope to help fine-tune their technique and racing philosophy not only leading up to Budapest but also to the postponed Asian Games on the agenda for some time in 2023.
Pope is the former coach of Melbourne Vicentre Swimming Club and has served on the 2000 and 2008 Australian Olympic team coaching staffs, as well as 6 World Championships teams. Former swimmers under Pope’s tutelage include Michael Klim, Grant Hackett and Giaan Rooney.
Specifically addressing Asian media’s questions concerning his assessment of Hwang in particular, Pope said he was surprised by the teen’s tremendous potential.
“Hwang Sunwoo just flows through the water. It’s undoubtedly a natural talent,” Pope said.
The coach paid particular attention to turns and dolphin kicks, of which he said, “Hwang has already improved to some extent.”
Regarding kicking underwater off the turns, Hwang told SwimSwam this week, “I remember talking with the guys in the locker room at first, ‘I don’t think I can kick 6 every wall.’ But now we are really trying hard to make it natural.
“It was hard at first and I was out of breath, but continuous practice has helped me get used to it and I know I can improve.”
On Pope’s teaching style, Hwang told us, “He explains every training method in detail and the reason why we are doing it, so it is easier to stay focused.”
As far as his goal for Budapest, Hwang said, “So far I know there are about 6~7 swimmers that clock 1:45, so I think the winning time will be 1:44 at least.
“As a SC Champion in the 200m freestyle in Abu Dhabi last year, I really want to become LC Champion as well and will do my best.”
Regarding the 100m freestyle specifically, Hwang said, “I’d be happy to make it to finals.”
Pope wasn’t as understated as his protege, instead saying of Hwang, “If we prepare perfectly, no one will be able to defeat Hwang Sunwoo and we will win the gold medal.”