Swimmers leave pool, embrace new challenge in ocean

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Swimmers leave pool, embrace new challenge in ocean

Swimmers practice for open water swimming competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap

YEOSU, South Korea, July 12 (Yonhap) ― Baek Seung-ho was once a freestyle swimmer in the early 2000s, but he had the misfortune of competing in the same era with the once-in-a-generation talent, Park Tae-hwan.

Park, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion in the 400-meter freestyle, was rarely challenged at domestic events during those days and often left everyone else to fight for second place. And Baek, with his progress blocked by the transcendent star, found his calling in the ocean.

Baek will represent host South Korea in the open water swimming at the FINA World Championships this month. He'll enter the men's 5-kilometer competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, a city located south of the main host city Gwangju, on Saturday.

After his practice Thursday, Baek said he was inspired by Tunisian star Oussama Mellouli, who has won Olympic gold medals and world championships in both pool and open water events.

At London 2012, Mellouli won gold in the 10km marathon swimming and bronze in the 1,500m freestyle, becoming the first swimmer to take medals in the ocean and the pool at a single Olympics.

"After watching him compete, I realized it was possible to compete in long distance events in the pool and in the open water at the same time," said Baek, who was a 1,500m freestyle specialist. "I decided to give the open water a shot so that I could blaze the trail for younger swimmers."

The first medal of this year's championships will come from the 5km open water event. Though Baek is a long shot to win a medal, he said he still enjoys being in the ocean.

"When I am alone deep in the dark ocean, it can get pretty lonely, but it allows me to concentrate solely on the battle with myself," Baek said. "As tough as it is, the sense of reward and gratification I get from finishing a race is huge."

Swimmers practice for open water swimming competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap

No South Korean has raced in an open water event at FINA championships, and Baek is the only one with an international event under his belt.

At the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, Baek participated in the 10km event. He was in second place at the halfway mark but fell well out of contention down the stretch. It was a learning experience that Baek values so much to this day.

"When you have to battle the elements and other swimmers, experience is really important," he said. "With my experience, I think I should be able to manage my race better."

Baek has set a realistic goal of cracking the top 30 in Yeosu and then working his way toward earning a spot in next year's Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The transition from the pool to the open water may have been a bit easier for Baek, who was a long distance swimmer in the pool, than Lim Da-youn, who made the women's open water team after competing in the 50m and 100m freestyle.

Lim could have come to the world championships in a different sport. She signed up for the water polo national team trials and survived the final cut of 13 players. But when she was also selected for the open water team, Lim chose the ocean.

Lim, too, looked to Mellouli for inspiration. The two even trained together in 2016 in the United States, and that's when Lim, 26, developed interest in open water swimming.

"Coaches were worried about me at first because I was the only sprinter, but I did a lot of distance training back in the day," Lim said. "Whatever I lack in endurance, I can make up for it with my speed." (Yonhap)

South Korean swimmer Baek Seung-ho drinks water while practicing for open water swimming competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap
Swimmers practice for open water swimming competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap

YEOSU, South Korea, July 12 (Yonhap) ― Baek Seung-ho was once a freestyle swimmer in the early 2000s, but he had the misfortune of competing in the same era with the once-in-a-generation talent, Park Tae-hwan.

Park, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion in the 400-meter freestyle, was rarely challenged at domestic events during those days and often left everyone else to fight for second place. And Baek, with his progress blocked by the transcendent star, found his calling in the ocean.

Baek will represent host South Korea in the open water swimming at the FINA World Championships this month. He'll enter the men's 5-kilometer competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, a city located south of the main host city Gwangju, on Saturday.

After his practice Thursday, Baek said he was inspired by Tunisian star Oussama Mellouli, who has won Olympic gold medals and world championships in both pool and open water events.

At London 2012, Mellouli won gold in the 10km marathon swimming and bronze in the 1,500m freestyle, becoming the first swimmer to take medals in the ocean and the pool at a single Olympics.

"After watching him compete, I realized it was possible to compete in long distance events in the pool and in the open water at the same time," said Baek, who was a 1,500m freestyle specialist. "I decided to give the open water a shot so that I could blaze the trail for younger swimmers."

The first medal of this year's championships will come from the 5km open water event. Though Baek is a long shot to win a medal, he said he still enjoys being in the ocean.

"When I am alone deep in the dark ocean, it can get pretty lonely, but it allows me to concentrate solely on the battle with myself," Baek said. "As tough as it is, the sense of reward and gratification I get from finishing a race is huge."

Swimmers practice for open water swimming competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap

No South Korean has raced in an open water event at FINA championships, and Baek is the only one with an international event under his belt.

At the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, Baek participated in the 10km event. He was in second place at the halfway mark but fell well out of contention down the stretch. It was a learning experience that Baek values so much to this day.

"When you have to battle the elements and other swimmers, experience is really important," he said. "With my experience, I think I should be able to manage my race better."

Baek has set a realistic goal of cracking the top 30 in Yeosu and then working his way toward earning a spot in next year's Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The transition from the pool to the open water may have been a bit easier for Baek, who was a long distance swimmer in the pool, than Lim Da-youn, who made the women's open water team after competing in the 50m and 100m freestyle.

Lim could have come to the world championships in a different sport. She signed up for the water polo national team trials and survived the final cut of 13 players. But when she was also selected for the open water team, Lim chose the ocean.

Lim, too, looked to Mellouli for inspiration. The two even trained together in 2016 in the United States, and that's when Lim, 26, developed interest in open water swimming.

"Coaches were worried about me at first because I was the only sprinter, but I did a lot of distance training back in the day," Lim said. "Whatever I lack in endurance, I can make up for it with my speed." (Yonhap)

South Korean swimmer Baek Seung-ho drinks water while practicing for open water swimming competition at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap


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