By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean swimming icon Park Tae-hwan has made a living out of making history, and he will look to add another chapter to his storied career at this year's Asian Games in Incheon.
The 17th Asiad will open Friday in this western port city and Park's first race at a brand new arena named after him will take place two days later, the 200-meter freestyle.
If Park wins the gold in the event, he will become the first South Korean swimmer to win at least a gold medal in three consecutive Asian Games.
Swimmer Park Tae-hwan takes a break during practice on Sept. 17, 2014, at Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center in Incheon, host of the 2014 Asian Games. (Yonhap)
The 24-year-old won three gold medals in each of the past two Asiads, winning freestyle races in the 200ｍ, 400ｍ and 1,500ｍ in 2006 and then the 100ｍ, 200ｍ and 400ｍ freestyle events in 2010.
Park's bread-and-butter events are the 200ｍ and 400ｍ. He has won two world championships and an Olympic gold in the 400ｍ, and has two Olympic silver medals in the 200ｍ. Park will try to win his third straight Asiad gold in those two.
The men's 200ｍ freestyle final, set for 7 p.m. Sunday, is also the first final in the swimming competition at Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center. Park is also slated to enter the freestyle races in the 100ｍ, 400ｍ and 1,500ｍ, along with the 4x100ｍ and the 4x200ｍ relays, and the 4x100ｍ medley relay.
Park enters the Asiad on a roll. He owns the world's second-fastest time in the 200ｍ freestyle in 2014 with 1:45.25, set during the national team trials in July.
He covered the final 50ｍ in 26.55 seconds, faster than the final stretch at the 2010 Asian Games when he set the national record of 1:44.80.
Swimming officials who watched the national team trials say Park's burst of speed reminded them of his victorious races at the Olympics and world championships.
Park will have to contend with two of Asia's finest -- Sun Yang of China and Kosuke Hagino of Japan -- in his pursuit of the gold. Sun, who shared the 2012 Olympic silver in the 200ｍ freestyle with Park, has a season-best time of 1:46.04, eighth in the world this year. Hagino, at 20, is an up-and-comer freestyler, but his fastest 200ｍ time this year is only slightly better than Sun's at 1:45.89, good for seventh in the world.
A win in the 200ｍ will place Park on course for more history. If he wins three gold medals again, Park will become the first swimmer to win at least three freestyle races in three Asian Games in a row.
A 200ｍ title will be Park's seventh gold in the Asiad, a record for a South Korean athlete.