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(Gwangju Swimming) S. Korea preparing to add new chapter to checkered history in pool

All Headlines 09:59 July 20, 2019

By Yoo Jee-ho

GWANGJU, July 20 (Yonhap) -- A medal would be nice, but realistically, host South Korea would be happy to just have a few athletes in the finals in the swimming portion of the world championships starting Sunday.

There will be 42 gold medals at stake in the pool at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, with the first four to be awarded Sunday at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul.

South Korean swimmer Kim Seo-yeong trains at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center on July 19, 2019, ahead of the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korea has so far had only one swimming medalist at the world championships: Park Tae-hwan won gold in the men's 400m freestyle and bronze in the 200m freestyle in 2007 then added another 400m free gold in 2011.

Before diver Kim Su-ji won bronze in the women's 1m springboard at this year's competition last Saturday, Park had been the only South Korean medalist in any discipline at these biennial competitions.

The world championships began in 1973 and South Korea sent its first swimmers in 1991, but it wasn't until seven years later that the country had its first finalist.

In 1998 in Perth, Australia, Han Kyu-chul reached the final -- open only to the top eight swimmers from the heats -- in the men's 200m butterfly and ended up in seventh place.

Another seven years later, Lee Nam-eun became the first South Korean female swimmer to make a world championships final, as she finished eighth in the women's 50m backstroke.

Park swam his way into the record books in 2007 and again in 2011. But even Park had his down moments, getting knocked out of the heats in the 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle races.

And when Park skipped the 2013 and 2015 competitions, no one else stepped up to fill his void.

In 2017, Park returned to the fold and made the finals in the 200m and 400m free. He was joined by two record-setting female swimmers.

Swimmers participating in the FINA World Championships train at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on July 19, 2019. (Yonhap)

An Se-hyeon broke three South Korean national records in the women's 100m and 200m butterfly en route to finishing fifth and fourth, respectively. Kim Seo-yeong became the first to make the 200m individual medley (IM) final and ranked sixth overall.

This year in Gwangju, South Korea will have 14 male and 15 female swimmers, although Park pulled out of the event months ago, citing a lack of preparation and An didn't survive the national team trials.

That leaves Kim as the host nation's best hope for a berth in the final, and possibly a medal. Her main event is the 200m IM. She is the national record holder and the 2018 Asian Games champion in that event. For 2019, six swimmers have posted faster times in the 200 IM than Kim.

The heats and the semifinals for the 200 IM are set for Sunday.

Elsewhere, Im Da-sol, the national record holder in the women's 100m and 200m backstroke, could sniff at a final berth in those two events.

South Korean swimmer Jeong So-eun trains at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center on July 18, 2019, ahead of the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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