With his individual races now in the books at the ongoing world championships, South Korean swimming star Hwang Sun-woo will try to lead his relay team to unprecedented heights.
Hwang will team up with three others in the men's 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the World Aquatics Championships on Friday in the Japanese host city of Fukuoka.
The heats are scheduled for 11:55 a.m. at Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall A, and the top eight teams will advance to the final set for 9:40 p.m.
South Korea has never won a relay medal at swimming worlds, but Hwang and his teammates have said all week that it could all change in Fukuoka.
Their individual performances so far have been encouraging.
Hwang won the bronze medal in the 200m freestyle on Tuesday, with a new national record time of 1:44.42. Joining him in the final was teammate Lee Ho-joon, who finished in sixth place. Hwang and Lee were the first set of South Korean teammates to swim in the same final at a worlds.
Kim Woo-min broke his personal best twice en route to finishing a career-best fifth in the 400m freestyle in 3:43.92. In the 800m freestyle, Kim established a new national record with 7:47.69.
Last year, these three swimmers and Lee Yoo-yeon teamed up to finish sixth, the best world championships performance by any South Korean relay team. They also set a national record time of 7:06.93. It wasn't yet clear as of Thursday morning who will be the fourth man, but with the returning trio's confidence running high, it probably doesn't matter much who will round out the team.
"The fact that we're even talking about going for a medal shows you just how far South Korean swimming has come," Hwang said Wednesday, moments after being eliminated in the 100m freestyle semifinals. "We reached the final last year, and our individual records have all improved from last year. So we're going to make our push for a medal."
Hwang's elimination from the 100m freestyle could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
He was running on fumes for the 100m event. After winning his 200m bronze medal Tuesday evening, Hwang didn't return to his hotel until half past midnight. He then had to return to the pool early Wednesday morning for the 100m heats.
Hwang had barely recovered for the morning session and still wasn't 100 percent for the semifinals held some nine hours later. But missing the final, scheduled for Thursday evening, gave Hwang a full day worth of rest and recovery.
He should be locked and loaded for the relay, as are Kim and Lee, whose last individual events came Tuesday. (Yonhap)