By Yoo Jee-ho
GWANGJU, July 17 (Yonhap) -- Swimmers for the host nation South Korea arrived in Gwangju on Wednesday to prepare for the world championships, four days before the start of the swimming competition.
The 18th FINA World Championships began last Friday with artistic swimming, diving, open water swimming and water polo. The swimming races kick off on Sunday and will run through July 28 in this metropolitan city located 330 kilometers south of Seoul.
South Korea will have 14 male and 15 female swimmers competing in championship. Their first practice will run from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Thursday.
Headlining the list will be Kim Seo-yeong, considered the country's best hope for a medal in the pool. She won gold in the 200m individual medley (IM) and silver in the 400m IM at the 2018 Asian Games, and holds the national records in both.
For Kim, the pressure to deliver a medal for the home country has been lifted slightly, as diver Kim Su-ji captured a surprise bronze medal in the 1m springboard last Saturday.
Kim Su-ji became the first South Korean woman to win a medal at the swimming world championships. Kim Seo-yeong has a chance to be the first female swimmer from the country to reach the world championships podium.
Kim will enter the heats in the 200m IM Sunday morning and the semifinals, if she qualifies, will be Sunday evening. The final will be Monday evening, all at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center.
Kim's national record in the 200 IM is 2:08.34. For this year, her best time is 2:09.97, which puts her in 25th place.
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, the three-time defending world champion in the 200 IM, leads everyone this year with 2:08.28. She owns the four fastest times in the 200 IM in 2019 and also holds the world record with 2:06.12.
Beating Hosszu will be a tall order for anyone, not just Kim. And her club coach, Kim In-kyun, said the Korean swimmer should get into the 2:07 range to have a shot at a medal
"She has been putting in some final work over the past 40 or so days, and she's got herself into great form," said Kim In-kyun, who coaches the swimmer for the North Gyeongsang Provincial Government team. "The goal is to break her personal best, and she has gotten even stronger than she was at the Asian Games last year."
The coach said these world championships are part of Seo-yeong's preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"Our ultimate goal is the Olympics," he said. "She could do well here or she could do poorly. We've prepared our post-world championships training plans for both scenarios."
Kim said the swimmer will look to conserve her energy in the heats and the semis and then go all-out in the final.
Asked if swimming at home will mean extra burden on the swimmer, the coach said, "She has to overcome this type of pressure if she wants to do well at the Olympics."