You can look at a bronze medal in an athletic competition in different ways: you're either the third best in your sport, or you fell two spots short of first place.
For South Korean swimmer Hwang Sun-woo, the bronze medal in the men's 200-meter freestyle at the world championships in Japan on Tuesday added a new color to a collection of medals that he hopes to keep growing.
That Hwang broke his own national record at the same time helped ease the sting of not taking the ultimate prize in Fukuoka.
Hwang finished third with a time of 1:44.42, which broke his previous mark by 0.05 second. That earlier record had been set when Hwang won silver at last year's world championships in Budapest. He is now the first South Korean swimmer to win a medal at consecutive world championships.
"To set the new record and to win a bronze medal, something that I didn't have before ... it's a pretty good result," Hwang said after the race at Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall A.
"I honestly thought it was going to be difficult to improve on the 200m national record. There aren't many opportunities to take a crack at it, other than these big events. This was a really significant race for me because I was able to shave 0.05 second off that record," he said.
Hwang said he knew that he was in second place at the 150m mark, with the reigning world champion from Romania, David Popovici, well ahead of the pack.
In a stunning finish, though, Popovici lost his speed, while two Britons, Matthew Richards and Tom Dean, started making up ground. Hwang even moved into the lead in a fleeting moment over the home stretch before settling for third behind Richards and Dean.
"I knew I was behind Popovici after 150m, and I was only trying to catch him at the end," Hwang said. "When I touched the pad, I felt I'd caught him, but I didn't know Tom Dean and Richards had gone so fast in the final 50m."
The 200m final was set up as a stage where Popovici, still just 18, and Hwang, 20, would renew their budding rivalry. Instead, Popovici finished fourth in 1:44.90, well off his personal best and world junior record of 1:42.97.
"I've always had so much respect for Popovici. He has been in the 1:42 territory," Hwang said. "Maybe he wasn't feeling great today."
There will be no shortage of international events for Hwang. He will race in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in the fall. The next world championships will be in February next year in Doha.
"It puts a lot of pressure on athletes to have the worlds just seven months later, and with the Asian Games in between, there's very little time to prepare," Hwang said. "But there's nothing you can do about it. Everyone wants to do well at the worlds, and I will put in my work to keep improving my time."
Following the 2024 worlds will be the Olympic Games in Paris. Hwang had first shown flashes of brilliance at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and will go into the French capital as a legitimate medal contender.
"We only have about a year left until the Paris Olympics, and I will work as hard as I can over the next 12 months to keep breaking my personal best," Hwang said. "I am in my early 20s, and I think I am at a point in my career where I should be setting records." (Yonhap)