By Yoo Jee-ho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan would be the first to tell you he shouldn't be the one in the spotlight at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and that suits him just fine.
He does bring impressive credentials -- with four Olympic medals and two world championships -- but in his main event, the 400m freestyle, Park is ranked only sixth this year. His time of 3:44.26 is nearly three seconds behind the leader, Mack Horton of Australia.
"I am only sixth in the world and people aren't probably all that interested in me," Park said with a smile after his practice Thursday at Olympic Aquatics Stadium. "So I am trying not to put too much pressure on myself and to enjoy being here. I think it will help me concentrate better on the race that way."
Park has been singing the same tune since he arrived in Rio Sunday: that he won't worry about anything else but having fun.
"I think the key word for me here is joy," he said. "I want to have fun competing, and also have fun resting between my races."
Park's first race, the 400m freestyle, is Saturday, a day after the opening ceremony. He has won an Olympic gold, an Olympic silver, and two world championships in that distance.
South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan stretches at the warm-up pool for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, in this Associated Press photo taken on Aug. 3, 2016. (Yonhap)
Park's journey to Rio has been well-documented. He was initially barred from the national team because of his doping history: Park tested positive for testosterone supplements in 2014 and served an 18-month ban from September 2014 to March this year.
The Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) made him ineligible for Rio, based on a rule that prevents athletes from representing the country for three years after the end of their doping suspensions.
Park still raced at the national team trials in April and met the Olympic qualifying standards set by FINA, the international swimming governing body, in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1,500m.
Park then appealed the KOC rule at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the world's top sports tribunal upheld the appeal on July 8, the deadline to submit the national swimming team entry.
Because it'd been a long road just to make it to the Olympics, Park said he's that much more appreciative of the opportunity.
"I think it's a miracle that I am at the Olympics at all," he said. "Now that I am here, I don't want to leave with any regrets."
Park managed to get into only two meets all year: the national team trials and a minor international competition in Australia in June. He said he'd been trying to bring competition-like intensity to his practices, though the Olympics will be a completely different animal.
"I am also worried that I haven't raced much, and haven't had as much time to prepare for the Olympics as others," Park said. "And I don't want that to cause any regrets, and so no matter how little preparation I had, I want to make sure there will be no 'what-ifs' at the end."
Park predicted a tight battle for the 400m supremacy in Rio. Compared to the previous two Olympics -- where the field was top-heavy with Park and a couple of others -- the South Korean star said more swimmers will take a crack at the gold.
After Horton, No. 2 Sun Yang -- whom beat Park for the 400m gold in London -- and No. 5 Gabriele Detti are separated by only 0.42 second.
Park said he hasn't formulated any major race strategy but he has watched videos of his earlier races.
"Since this is my fourth Olympics, I think I'd better make the most of my experience," he said. "I'll do the best I can and hopefully I will leave with strong results."