South Korean swimmers are shooting for the country’s 1st medal since 2011 in the upcoming 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, to kick off Friday in Gwangju.
On its home turf, the country is sending its largest-ever team to the championship with 82 athletes, 29 in swimming, eight in diving, 26 in water polo, 11 in artistic swimming and eight in open water swimming.
One star who will not be joining the team is Park Tae-hwan, the first and only swimmer in the country’s history to have won a medal either at the Olympics or the world championships. The 400-meter freestyle gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics announced in April that he will not swim in Gwangju.
Kim Seo-yeong (Yonhap)
With Park benched, 25-year-old Kim Seo-yeong is expected to carry the torch for the South Koreans, who remain medal-less since the Shanghai championship event in 2011 when Park won a gold in men’s 400 freestyle.
In the 2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Kim became the first Korean to reach the women’s 200 individual medley.
She followed it up the next year by winning the gold medal in the women’s 200 individual medley and the silver in the 400 individual medley at the Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta, setting both the South Korean record and Asian Games record in the former. Kim’s win was the first gold medal by a South Korean swimmer at the Asian Games in eight years.
An Se-hyeon (Yonhap)
An Se-hyeon had also shined in the Hungarian capital, setting South Korean records at women’s 100 and 200 butterfly events. She finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the 100 and the 200, which were the best performances for a Korean female swimmer in both events.
Hopes are high for either Kim or An to be the first South Korean woman to win a medal at the Gwangju championships. The country has a relatively weak record in the World Aquatics Championships, only managing to cross the threshold and participate for the first time in 1991.
Prior to Gwangju, only five South Korean swimmers have ever competed in the finals of any of its events.
Woo Ha-ram (Yonhap)
Woo Ha-ram is seeking to dive into sports immortality, having notched four medals in diving events -- two silver and two bronze -- at the Jakarta games last year. Woo already made history in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, becoming the first South Korean diver to make it to the finals in the Olympics at the age of 18. He finished 11th.
The pair of Kwon Kyung-min and Cho Kwan-Hoon finished sixth in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform finals at the 2009 World Aquatics Championships, which was as high as South Korean diving ever made it in the world championships.
Water polo and open water swimming are in relative obscurity here, as evidenced by South Korea’s making its world championship debut in both categories and only winning its berth in them by being the host nation. Both disciplines had no national team prior to Gwangju, and had to hastily put together a team. Women’s water polo team was only formed a little over a month ago, consisting mostly of high school students.
Artistic swimming -- better known as synchronized swimming prior to the official name change two years ago, is another field South Koreans are expected to be underdogs. South Korea has no entry to high diving, one of the six disciplines held as part of the 18th FINA championships.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org