If any South Korean athlete knows about competing under pressure, it's Park Tae-hwan, the only swimmer from the country to have won an Olympic gold medal and a world title.
With the FINA World Championships underway in Gwangju, Park, an honorary ambassador for the competition, paid a visit to this southern metropolitan city to meet with fans and support national team athletes.
Park Se-hwan (Yonhap)
Park arrived to spend a few hours here after all but one South Korean swimmer were eliminated in the heats on Day 1 of the swimming races, with Kim Seo-yeong's advance to the semifinals in the women's 200m individual medley (IM) being the only bright spot for the host nation in the pool.
"As a fellow swimmer, I was disappointed to hear that, but since this is only the first day, I hope our swimmers will do better in later events," Park told reporters following a corporate appearance. "I'll cheer on them until the end of the competition."
Park said he particularly empathized with Kim, considered South Korea's best hope for a medal in the pool. After Park announced in April that he wouldn't race here because of his lack of preparation, the bulk of the national spotlight went to Kim, the reigning Asian Games champion and the national record holder in the 200m IM.
"She's carrying all the weight of those expectations because I am not competing, and I can relate to it," Park said. "I am sure that burden can seem unbearable but I hope she overcomes it and finishes her world championships with good results."
Park shot to international stardom by winning the 400m freestyle gold and 200m freestyle bronze at the 2007 world championships. He followed that up with the 400m freestyle gold and 200m freestyle silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Park earned his second world title in the 400m free in 2011. He also picked up silver medals in the 200m and 400m free at the 2012 Olympics in London. (Yonhap)