May 6, 2017
South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport before departing for Australia for training. (Yonhap)
Former Olympic swimming champion Park Tae-hwan
has won his much-anticipated season debut.
The South Korean star captured the men's 400-meter freestyle title at Arena Pro Swim Series at McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta on Friday (local time), with the time of 3:44.38.
He beat the runner-up, Felix Auboeck of the United States, by a whopping 6.01 seconds.
Park's winning time was the fourth-fastest 400m freestyle record of 2017. Sun Yang of China owns the fastest time of the season with 3:42.16.
Park, the 2008 Olympic champion in the 400m free, is competing for the first time in 2017. His previous meet was the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships in Canada last December. Park's last competition held at the 50m pool was the Asian Swimming Championships in Tokyo in November.
Park won the 400m free in Tokyo with the time of 3:44.68.
Park, who has also won two world titles in the 400m free, is gearing up for the 2017 world championships in Budapest, Hungary, in July. He was safely under the FINA's "A" qualifying time of 3:48.15.
For the world championships, the Korea Swimming Federation has said it will recognize times posted by South Korean swimmers in overseas meets between May 7 and 15 and use them to put together the national team if athletes are unable to enter the trials at home.
Park had the fastest split over the first 50m with 25.47 seconds, and never once relinquished his lead. His splits sat around 28 and 29 seconds, and then he covered the final 50m in 26.27 seconds.
Park won the 100m freestyle heats earlier Friday but skipped the final to focus on the 400m.
Park finished his 100m heat in 48.62 seconds, again under the FINA's A standard (48.93). The eventual 100m champion, Blake Pieroni of the United States, had a worse time than Park with 49.18 seconds.
Park is scheduled to compete in the 200m free on Saturday and 1,500m free on Sunday. He has been in offseason training in Australia since February.