(ATTN: ADDS photo)
By Yoo Jee-ho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 1 (Yonhap) -- Though he may no longer be the world beater in the pool, South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan can still be a force when he's as relaxed and confident as he is now, his coach said Monday.
Duncan Todd told Yonhap News Agency in Rio de Janeiro, the site of this year's Summer Olympics, that his pupil is in great physical and mental state, with his first race, the 400m freestyle, looming on Saturday.
"His progress has been good, and his training has been of a high level," Todd said before entering the Olympic Aquatics Stadium for Park's second training session of Monday. "Part of the reason he's feeling so confident is that his training has been so good."
Duncan Todd (R) and South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan talk during practice at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 1, 2016. (Yonhap)
Todd, an Australian native, worked out with Park for six weeks in Cairns, Australia, earlier this year, and then for two more weeks in Jacksonville, Florida, before arriving in Rio on Sunday. The two actually go further back, as Todd, then working under Park's former coach, Michael Bohl, helped the swimmer prepare for the 2011 world championships and the 2012 London Olympics.
Todd said Park is especially grateful for Rio, his fourth Olympics, because he almost never made it here in the first place.
Last month, Park successfully challenged a rule by the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) that bars athletes from representing the country for three years after their doping suspension.
Park, the 2008 Olympic champion in the 400m, served an 18-month ban for a positive doping test from September 2014 to March 2016. He appealed the rule at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the world's top sports tribunal sided with the swimmer on July 8, making him eligible for the national team on the last day before it submitted its official roster.
Australian swimming coach Duncan Todd (R) speaks with his student, South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan (L), after arriving in Rio de Janeiro on July 31, 2016. (Yonhap)
"We didn't know for a very long time whether he could race, and when he got the positive result from the CAS, I think he was able to relax," Todd said. "He knows that he's got an opportunity here and that he's fortunate. He's grateful and he's enjoying it -- which is good, because when Parky is enjoying it, he swims fast."
In between his suspension and the long legal battle with the KOC, Park only entered two competitions this year before Rio: the South Korean Olympic trials in April and a minor international meet in Brisbane, Australia, two months later.
He met the Olympic qualifying times set by FINA, the international swimming governing body, in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle in April. Then in Australia, Park finished third in the 400m, fourth in the 200m and ninth in the 100m.
Todd said the focus in Jacksonville was on addressing "a couple of things" that emerged in Brisbane about his race plans and keeping his splits more balanced.
Things have gone the way both the coach and the swimmer had hoped, but Todd said his only expectation of Park is that he "does the best he can."
"We can't control the other athletes and so we don't worry about them," he said. "As long as Parky is relaxed and he's fit and he swims his best, maybe we'll have a good result."