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Teen swimmer's quest for world championships medal to start on weekend

South Korean swimmer Hwang Sun-woo trains at the National Training Center in Jincheon, some 90 kilometers south of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korean swimmer Hwang Sun-woo trains at the National Training Center in Jincheon, some 90 kilometers south of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korean teen swimming sensation Hwang Sun-woo will begin the pursuit of his first world championships medal on the weekend in Hungary.

Hwang, 19, represents South Korea's strongest medal hope among the country's 38 swimmers, artistic swimmers and divers competing at the 19th FINA World Championships in Budapest.

The South Korean delegation arrived in the Hungarian capital Wednesday afternoon. The competition starts with preliminaries in artistic swimming on Friday, and swimming races will begin Saturday.

Hwang is trying to become only the second South Korean swimmer to reach a podium at world championships and join four-time Olympic medalist Park Tae-hwan.

Park captured his first world championships gold medal, in the 400m freestyle, in 2007. He picked up another 400m freestyle world title in 2011 and won bronze in the 200m freestyle that same year.

Hwang's main event is the 200m freestyle, where he holds the world junior record with 1:44.62. He established that mark in the final at last year's Tokyo Olympics, where he finished seventh in his major international breakthrough.

Hwang later ranked fifth in the 100m freestyle, becoming the first Asian to even reach the final since 1956. Hwang also set an Asian record with 47.56 seconds in the semifinals of the 100m freestyle.

For 2022, Hwang's best time in the 200m freestyle is 1:45.79 from the national trials in March. It is the eighth-fastest time in the world this year.

One of the swimmers ahead of Hwang, Duncan Scott of Britain (1:45.54), will miss the worlds while recovering from COVID-19, an absence that should help Hwang's chances in Budapest.

U.S. teammates Kieran Smith (1:45.25) and Drew Kibler (1:45.32) are 1-2 in the 200m freestyle times this season.

Heats in Budapest are scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Sunday local time, or 4:45 p.m. Sunday in Seoul. Hwang has been drawn into Lane 2 in Heat 7, next to Kibler in Lane 3 and Tom Dean of Britain (1:45.73 this season) in Lane 4.

The semifinals for the 200m freestyle are set to begin at 7:14 p.m. Sunday in Budapest, or 2:14 a.m. Monday in Seoul. The final is 6:02 p.m. Monday in Hungary, or 1:02 a.m. Tuesday in South Korea.

In December last year, Hwang won the 200m free gold medal at the world short course championships, held in a 25-meter pool instead of an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool. Hoping to build on that momentum, Hwang spent six weeks in Australia, starting in April, to train with veteran instructor Ian Pope, who has produced Olympic gold medalists and world champions such as Grant Hackett and Michael Klim.

Hwang competed only in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the previous long course worlds in 2019 in the South Korean city of Gwangju.

In Hungary, Hwang will race in the 200m and then 100m freestyle. Hwang owns the 29th-best time in the 100m freestyle this year with 48.42 seconds.

He is also entered for the 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay, and 4x100m medley relay.

Hwang's first race in Budapest will be the heats for the 4x100m relay on Saturday. (Yonhap)

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