SEOUL-- With the help of a veteran Australian coach who has produced multiple world champions, South Korean teenage swimmer Hwang Sun-woo is hoping to join the ranks this summer.
Hwang arrived in Melbourne on April 20 for a special six-week training camp, where Ian Pope, a highly successful swimming coach with decades of experience, has been trying to get the most out of the 18-year-old.
Hwang traveled along with three national team freestyle teammates, Lee Ho-joon, Kim Woo-min and Lee Yoo-yeon, as the Korea Swimming Federation (KSF) looked to bolster the country's gold medal hope in the men's 4x200m relay at the Asian Games in September and get them ready for the world championships in Budapest next month.
With the Asian Games now postponed due to COVID-19, Hwang and his teammates can now concentrate just on the world championships. And Hwang, the next big swimming star from South Korea after the 2008 Olympic gold medalist Park Tae-hwan, is the only one of the quartet who can make some noise in Hungary.
In an online press conference organized by the KSF on Tuesday, Hwang did not hide his ambitions.
"It'd be great to reach the podium in the 200-meter freestyle. I will try to do my best to get to the very top," Hwang said of his main event. "In the 100m freestyle, I'd be happy to reach the final. And if I can make it to the podium, it'd be a valuable experience."
Hwang said his recent success had given him confidence for upcoming races.
He first made his presence felt at last year's Tokyo Olympics. Hwang set an Asian record in the 100m freestyle semifinals. In the 200m freestyle final, Hwang was on a world record pace early before running out of gas over the final stretch and finishing in seventh place.
Then in December last year, Hwang won the 200m freestyle title at the world short course championships, held in a 25m pool rather than the Olympic-sized 50m pool. Two months earlier, Hwang had won another short course title, winning the 200m freestyle final at a World Cup event in Qatar.
In the 50m pool, Hwang's personal best in the 200m freestyle is 1:44.62, set at the Tokyo Olympics. It remains the world junior record. In March this year, Hwang won the 200m free final at the national team trials in 1:45.79.
It would be the second-fastest time in the world this year, behind only 1:45.44 by Lukas Martens of Germany from April. FINA, the international swimming governing body, has not yet listed Hwang's time from the South Korean trials on its official rankings for the 2022 season. No other swimmer has broken the 1:46 mark so far.
"To get to the podium at the worlds, you will have to be in the mid to late 1:44s or early 1:45s at least," Hwang said. "I've gained some experience since last year, with the Olympics and the world short course championships. If I can continue to build on that, I should have a good result in the 200m (at the world championships)."
Hwang said Pope has been particularly helpful in concentrating on smaller details, whether it's his strokes, kicks or turns.
"I've been able to identify areas that I needed to work on, and coach Pope has been giving us such detailed instructions," Hwang said of the coach who has seen his pupils set 11 world records. "He has been taking underwater videos of our training sessions and breaking down finer points. I've been trying to soak up as much as I can. I feel like I've improved so much here technically."
In particular, Pope has been working on improving Hwang's underwater dolphin kicks at the start and at the turns, so that he could give himself a better push.
"I've never worked on dolphin kicks that much in training, but in Australia, the coach has told us to make six dolphin kicks every time," said Hwang, who said he had mostly done three or four dolphin kicks. "It was pretty taxing at first, but we've all gotten used to it."
Hwang said Pope has also helped him mentally.
"From the day I got here, he told me I have a great feel for the water," Hwang said with a smile. "Hearing that from someone who has coached so many great swimmers ... that has given me a lot of confidence."
Source: Yonhap News Agency