South Korean freestyle swimmer Hwang Sun-woo established a new season high in his main event in a tuneup for the world championships Tuesday.
Hwang won the men's 200-meter freestyle race at the National Swimming Championships in Gwangju, 270 kilometers south of Seoul, with a time of 1:44.61.
His previous season best had been 1:45.36 at the national team trials in March.
Hwang's time Tuesday is also the fastest time in the world in 2023, besting the time of 1:44.65 set by Pan Zhanle of China on May 4.
Hwang owns the South Korean national record in the 200m freestyle with 1:44.47, set while winning silver at last year's world championships in Budapest.
Hwang said afterward he had mixed feelings about his race.
"I was happy to have posted the best time of the season, but at the same time, I was a bit disappointed I didn't break the national record," Hwang said. "I prepared really hard for this competition. I wanted to improve my 200m time here."
Hwang will chase his second straight world championships medal in Fukuoka, Japan, in July.
David Popovici of Romania is the reigning world champion, and Pan has now emerged as another threat in the 200m free.
"Pan Zhanle and I are both Asians, and we're about the same age," said Hwang, who is about 15 months older than the Chinese at 20. "He's someone I will have to compete with, and I am relieved to have posted a slightly better time than his."
In addition to the 200m free, Hwang and Pan will also duke it out in the 100m free, where Pan broke Hwang's Asian record in May with a time of 47.22 seconds. Hwang had clocked 47.56 seconds in the semifinals at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
"Obviously, I've been keeping an eye on him because he's been putting up great times," Hwang said. "Since we'll be battling at the world championships and also the Asian Games (in September this year), I've been thinking about him."
Hwang said his immediate goal is to break his personal best at the world championships. Popovici won his gold medal in 2022 in 1:43.21.
"I felt I absolutely had to be in the 1:44 range to do well at the world championships and the Asian games later," Hwang said. "At least I got to the mid-1:44s. I will try to break my own record at the worlds."
About two months later, Hwang will go for his first Asian Games medals in Hangzhou, China. He hopes he will able to create some momentum there going into the Olympics.
"My goal at the Asian Games is to reach the top of the podium in the 100m and 200m," he said. "To do well at the Olympics, I have to keep improving my times."
Hwang will wrap up this domestic competition with the 100m freestyle Wednesday.
"I've been trying to improve my stamina in the late stretch of the 200m," Hwang said. "For the 100m, I want to be faster in the early portion."
Source: Yonhap News Agency