1st Gold in Olympic Swimming
Park Ends Aussie Dominance in 400M Freestyle
By Michael Ha
It took less than four minutes for Korea's swimming sensation Park Tae-hwan to prove to the world he is the best 400-meter freestyle swimmer, ending Australia's dominance of the event.
Park, dubbed ``marine boy" by Korean media, won the gold medal in the 400-meter event Sunday morning at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing, finishing the race in 3 minutes, 41.86 seconds, just 1.78 seconds off the 6 year-standing world record.
Park's winning race, watched by millions in Korea, represents the country's first-ever gold medal in an Olympic swimming event. The medal also symbolizes a personal triumph for 19-year-old Park, who first took up swimming at the age of seven to combat asthma.
Zhang Lin from China claimed silver, touching at in 3:42.78, while American Larsen Jensen took the bronze. Australia's Grant Hackett, one of the favorites going into the race, came in sixth.
Commenting on the race afterward, Park told reporters: ``I didn't have any specific strategy. I thought at first I shouldn't lag behind the other swimmers too much, so I could keep pace with the others.''
``It is an honor to compete with other swimmers here. It is also an honor for me to gain the medal in the Olympics,'' he said following the race, Yonhap News reported.
Park said he barely slept the night before the race. ``I slept maybe an hour Saturday night,'' the gold medallist told reporters.
``I just tried to do my best without thinking too much. It was great to be able to compete successfully with other top swimmers in the world.''
Koreans were enthralled by Park's win. His final race Sunday morning, broadcast by all three major television networks, posted a 42 percent viewer rating, according to AGB Nielson Media Research.
People around the country expressed their excitement at seeing Park claim the gold. ``I was worried somewhat because he had a false start in the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens. He really made us feel proud. He showed us we can do it," said one post on a popular Internet portal.
Park's family and parents were perhaps the proudest of all. His parents cheered and waved hands from the stands at the National Aquatics Center, while dozens of other spectators applauded and waved South Korean flags.
When reporters asked Park whom he thanks the most, he said, ``My parents.'' Indeed, it was his parents who first took Park to a local swimming pool when he was seven, hoping that taking up swimming lessons would help him develop stronger lungs and fight off asthma, Yonhap reported. On Sunday, Park conquered more than just a childhood illness.