Park is king of the water

Updated: 2010-11-21 08:58

By Yu Yilei (China Daily)

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Park is king of the water

Park Tae-hwan of South Korea bites his gold medal for the men's 100m freestyle swimming final at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, Nov 17, 2010. [Photo/Agencies]

Let's admit it. The Republic of Korea's (ROK) Park Tae-hwan is simply a better swimmer than his archrival, Zhang Lin of China.

Witnessing Park storm to three gold medals in individual freestyle events at the Guangzhou Asian Games while Zhang could only manage a bronze, officially ended the dispute over who is Asia's "freestyle king".

Park is king of the water

Park, two years younger than Zhang, dealt the Chinese severe defeats at the Doha Asian Games four years ago as he relegated Zhang into second place three times en route to winning men's 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle events.

Since then, Zhang has come up short to the Korean in every meet, including a fingertip loss to Park in the 400m freestyle final at the Beijing Olympics. Park won that event and became first Korean to win an Olympic swimming gold medal.

The dispute quieted down after that. But when Zhang won a gold medal in the 800m in world record time and also a bronze in the 400m at last year's World Championships in Rome, where out-of-form Park failed to even make it to the finals of the individual events he entered, the debate sparked again.

While Chinese media labels Zhang as "Liu Xiang in the pool", comparing him with the nation's track superstar Liu Xiang, the ROK media lavishly calls Park "the son of the God".

Related readings:
Park is king of the water Park completes golden trifecta
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Park is king of the water Park continues dominance in pool
Park is king of the water Park shines but China rules

Their duel in Guangzhou was highly anticipated as both made great efforts for it with lengthy overseas training camps with foreign coaches.

I have to say it turned out to be a disappointing duel because they were not even close. Park won the 200m freestyle with a new Asian record as Zhang failed to make it to the podium. The Korean then triumphed in the 400m while Zhang came in third. To the surprise of the fans, Park picked up another gold in the 100m, an event in which Zhang did not compete. In their final showdown, in the 1,500m, Park finished a distant second behind Sun Yang but was still well ahead of bronze-winning Zhang.

Chen Yinghong, Zhang's coach, attributed his charge's lackluster performances to overwork. But I believe Zhang does not have the ability to beat Park if the Korean is in top form.

Still, I should pay tribute to Zhang, who put up a gallant and entertaining fight with Park. Losing to the Korean does not decrease Zhang's greatness - his victory in Rome made him the first Chinese male swimmer to win a world title.

And he might feel better when he knows that Park's training reportedly costs up to 8.85 million yuan ($1.33 million) per year, eight times more than what the whole Chinese team spent in preparation for the Beijing Olympic Games.

Yu Yilei is the sports editor of China Daily. You can reach him at

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