2008 Olympic gold medalist Park Tae Hwan of Korea had a tumultuous lead-up to this summer’s Olympic Games, as the 27-year-old served an 18-month doping suspension followed by a fight with his nation’s Olympic Committee for the right to compete at the Games.
Due to a Korean Olympic Committee rule, any athlete having been banned for doping was barred from representing the nation for 3 years after the conclusion of the suspension. However, Park very publicly challenged the ruling, seeking oversight by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). CAS ultimately upheld Park’s appeal, which allowed the freestyle specialist to compete at the Rio Olympic Games.
After the months-long battle, Park wound up being a non-factor in his pet freestyle events, not even making the finals across the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle races. His irregular training pattern in light of his legal battle leading up to the Games is one explanation, however, the national record holder also points to an alleged blackmailing scandal as another point of distraction setting him off his international swimming game.
According to Park, Korea’s former Vice Sports Minister, Kim Chong, attempted to force the athlete into scrapping his plans of competing in Rio due to his doping suspension. Chong reportedly approached Park prior to Rio, saying he could help the swimmer obtain sponsorships and a possible teaching position if he would abandon his quest to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Back then, I was scared because he (Kim Chong) was in a high-ranking position,” Park told Korean press this week. “But I just wanted to go to the Olympics.”
“There were talks about corporate sponsorships and college professorship, but it didn’t really get through to me,” he said.
“Many thoughts went through my head and I felt the weight and responsibility. But what was important for me was to compete at the Olympics.”
Kim himself is not without controversy, having been named as a possible official involved with a bribery scandal surrounding Korea’s President Park Geun-hye. Kim even resigned from his post last month due to the allegations.
Reflecting on his performance in Rio, Park says, “The Olympics is the stage where the best athletes in the world represent their respective countries and only focus on their competition.
“I had to be in best form, but I had lots of things to think about other than swimming. I now regret that I wasn’t mentally strong at the moment.”
Since Rio, however, Park has proven he is back to form, having clinched super swift performances at both the Korean Sports Festival last month, as well as the Asian Swimming Championships, an event which concluded yesterday.
At the latter competition, Park fired off gold medal-winning swims across the men’s individual 100m/200m/400m/1500m freestyle races. His time in the men’s 200m free would have earned him a silver medal behind China’s Sun Yang at the Summer Olympics.
Of his performance in Tokyo this week, Park says, “I’m happy to wrap up the event very well. It really felt good to hear the national anthem at the podium.”
As for future plans, the Korean ‘aqua boy’ is still eyeing an appearance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“Right now, I’m working hard to compete at the World Swimming Championships next year,” he said. “If I can focus on my training and have a good working environment, I want to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Since many people are supporting me, I just want to put forth my best efforts.” (Korea Herald)