Park causes a big splash as he wins first Korean swim gold
When 17-year-old South Korean Park Tae-Hwan arrived in Doha for the 2006 Asian Games, he was a shy, unassuming teenager who could swim fast. Just how fast, nobody really knew, the dpa reported. The first attempt at a big international event in 2004 had ended in disaster when he was disqualified at the Athens Olympics after a false start. he reportedly hid in the bathroom for several hours because he was so embarrassed. And even after the schoolboy won three golds, one silver and three bronze at the Asian Games two years ago in Doha, a question mark remained. After all, Asian swimmers had, apart from the Japanese breaststrokers, seldom played any real part in world events dominated by US and Australian swimmers. However, Park -who took to swimming at the age of five after a doctor recommended the sport to treat his asthma - boldly predicted that he wanted to become the first South Korean to win a swimming Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008. The first step came last year when Park stunned his idol Grant Hackett of Australia for the 400m freestyle world title, He also added a bronze in the 200m freestyle, being beaten only by Michael Phelps and Pieter van den Hoogenband. On Sunday he lived up to his prediction by taking the Olympic 400m freestyle gold. He did so in style as the winning time of 3 minutes 41.86 seconds made him the second fastest man in event history. Only Australian Ian Thorpe has swum faster over the distance and Park was immensely proud to have made to number two on the alltime list. "Of course it is very important to get an Olympic gold, but I was very glad to break my own time," said Park, whose previous personal best was 3:44.30 from his world title swim. Park, who trains in Australia after having embarked on his own 500-day project which he hoped would take him to success in Beijing, thanked the Korean people after Sunday's victory in the 400m. "I achieved this result through the support of our people. I tried my best and am glad that I managed to win. I think I have to thank my parents for this success," he said. The 18-year-old, who is known to have a very strong finish in his races, said that he went into the race without a specific strategy. "I just wanted to make sure that I did not lag behind the other swimmers. So I tried my best to keep pace with the others." Park took the lead before the halfway mark and never looked back as local favourite Zhang Lin and American Larsen Jensen, who went into the finals with the fastest time from the heats, had to settle for silver and bronze, respectively. Park is also entered in the 200m and 1,500m and although he said after his 400m success that he was content with his result, his competitors should certainly not sit back in the belief that Park will not challenge for more.