Stars of Asiad

(LEAD) (Asiad) Usually stoic, Park shows cracks in Asiad at home

2014/09/23 21:18

By Yoo Jee-ho and Kim Han-joo

INCHEON, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- Never mind disappointing. This has been a downright puzzling Asian Games for Park Tae-hwan, the South Korean swimming hero who earned a bronze medal in the men's 400-meter freestyle on Tuesday. It was his third bronze medal in Incheon, against no gold.

It's been puzzling because the usually cool, calm, collected and confident swimmer has on several occasions confessed that he was burdened by the weight of expectations while competing at home.

He isn't just racing at home. He's doing so in a new arena bearing his own name, Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center, something that Park's coach, Michael Bohl, thinks has added even more pressure on the 24-year-old.

Park Tae-hwan waves to the crowd before receiving his bronze medal in the men's 200-meter freestyle at the Asian Games on Sept. 23, 2014. (Yonhap) Park Tae-hwan waves to the crowd before receiving his bronze medal in the men's 200-meter freestyle at the Asian Games on Sept. 23, 2014. (Yonhap)

"Most of the international meets he has swum at had been overseas," Bohl said earlier on Tuesday after Park's 400m heats. "It's different being in your hometown and racing in a pool named after you."

   Bohl also said, after Park's heats Tuesday morning, that the swimmer is trying too hard not to let his fans down, and that he has to forget about people's expectations and focus on his own race.

After his 400m freestyle race, Park said the Asiad in Incheon has taken its physical and psychological toll on him.

"No matter how hard I tried, it was quite difficult mentally," he said. "It's something I should have overcome, but I wasn't able to do it."

   Park said he appreciated the fans' support and that he should have been able to feed off their energy, instead of feeling burdened by their presence.

"I am disappointed, and my job is to do the best (for them)," he added.

One would think Park, who has raced at three Olympics and three world championships, both much bigger competitions than the Asian Games, would be immune to pressure.

Clearly, that hasn't been the case. And his struggles are somewhat reminiscent of figure skater Kim Yu-na's inability to keep her composure when she skated at the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix Final at home in 2008.

Kim entered the competition as the three-time defending champ and led the field after the short program. However, her mistake-laden free skate allowed Mao Asada of Japan to take first place over Kim.

Kim, as cool a customer as any, later admitted she was overwhelmed by the presence of screaming fans cheering for her to win.

The figure skater, then just 18, was apparently hardened by that experience. Three months after the Grand Prix Final, Kim captured the first of her two world championships. The following year, Kim won her first and only Olympic gold medal.

Bohl also advised Park to learn from this experience. Park will enter the 100m freestyle on Thursday for his final individual race here.