World championship silver brightens hope for Olympic medal for S. Korean relay swimming team

SEOUL, With a pair of world champions carrying the team to unprecedented heights, South Korea is emerging as an Olympic medal threat in the men's 4x200-meter freestyle relay. South Korea captured the silver medal in the relay at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha on Friday (local time), with a time of 7:01.94. The team of Yang Jae-hoon, Kim Woo-min, Lee Ho-joon and Hwang Sun-woo finished only one-tenth of a second back of China. The United States finished third in 7:02.08, after jumping out to an early lead. The same South Korean quartet had won the gold medal at last year's Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, with a national record time of 7:01.73. They fell a little short of that mark in Doha, while China got its revenge and also became the first Asian country to win the world title in this relay race. And in an event long dominated by Britain, Australia and the United States, the rise of South Korea and China is sure to spice things up in Paris this summer. Earlier in Doha, Kim had won the 400m fre estyle gold medal, and Hwang followed that up with the 200m freestyle title. The duo did the heavy lifting in Friday's final. South Korea was in last place after Yang's leadoff leg, but Kim dragged South Korea all the way up to third place by the end of the second leg. Kim covered his 200m in 1:44.93, the second-fastest split after 1:43.94 by Carson Foster of the U.S. Hwang, the South Korean anchor, nearly pulled off an improbable comeback at the end, with South Korea in third place and trailing the U.S. by 3.25 seconds with 200m to go. Hwang posted the fastest time in the final leg with 1:43.76. He was more than two seconds faster than the Chinese anchor, Zhang Zhanshuo, but that wasn't enough for the gold in the end. Still, the presence of the two current world champions should be a good recipe for success in Paris for South Korea. Several top-level swimmers decided not to race in Doha so that they could concentrate on preparing for the Olympics instead. Australia, for instance, didn't even compete in the 4x200m freestyle relay in Qatar, a year after winning bronze medal in Japan. Both the U.S. and Britain didn't have their "A" team. Against this backdrop, perhaps South Korea's silver should be taken with a grain of salt. But this silver medal still represents the latest step in the continued evolution of a team that oozes with potential for more. South Korea made its first ever world championship final in this relay event in June 2022, and finished sixth with a then-national record time of 7:06.93. That record tumbled at the next world championships in July 2023, when South Korea finished sixth with 7:04.07. And only about two months later, Yang, Kim, Lee and Hwang shaved 2.34 seconds off that mark for a new national record time, en route to capturing the Asian Games gold medal. Their silver-medal winning time on Friday would have been good for fourth place at the 2023 worlds, where Britain was the only team to break the 7-minute mark with 6:59.08. The next target for South Korea will be to break th e 7-minute barrier, or at least get closer to it. The gold medal-winning time at the last Olympic Games in 2021 was 6:58.58 by Britain. Hwang said Friday that he was "proud" of the silver medal and it should set the team up nicely for Paris. "We have about five months to go before the Olympics, and if we can use this performance as our stepping stone, we should be able to do well in Paris," Hwang said. "Our goal is to reach the podium." Kim said he will use the narrow loss to China as fuel during his preparation for the Olympics. His two other teammates echoed that sentiment. "It's disappointing to come so close at the end, but that feeling is going to be the source of our motivation moving forward," Lee said. Yang chimed in: "It was such a close finish, and I am going to remember this feeling as we get ready for the Olympics. Source: Yonhap News Agency