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[Exclusive] Open-water swimmers embrace new challenge, aim for Tokyo Olympics

Korea’s first-ever national open-water swim team hopes to popularize the discipline in the country

July 13, 2019 - 13:42 By Choi Ji-won
Despite being brand new, South Korea’s fledgling open-water swim team hopes to popularize the sport here by turning in a strong performance at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju.

As the FINA host nation, Korea competed in an international open-water swimming competition for the first time in its history Saturday morning, with a hastily assembled team taking to the waters off the country’s coastal city of Yeosu at the Yeosu Expo Ocean Park Open Water Swimming Competition Venue for the 5-kilometer men’s event.

A swimmer practices for the open-water swimming competition at Yeosu Expo Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province. (Yonhap)

Baek Seung-ho and Cho Jae-hoo competed in the event, with Baek finishing 48th with the record of 57:05.30 and Cho 52nd at 59:57.8.

“It’s our first time competing in the discipline, so our realistic goal is to crack into the top 20,” Seomoon Ji-ho, head coach of the national open-water swim team, said during an interview with The Korea Herald. “The best scenario would be to come in the top 10. Then we would qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.”

The national team was formed just last month and the eight swimmers chosen started training in indoor pools June 24. In accordance with FINA regulations, they entered the open waters on Monday along with all other open-water swimming contestants around the world.

“Our focus is on the 10-kilometer race as the Olympics only have the 10-kilometer discipline,” Seomoon added.

Swimmers practice for the open-water swimming competition at Yeosu Expo Ocean Park in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province. (Lim Da-youn)

Lim Da-youn, a freestyle swimmer competing in the 10-kilometer race, said Friday that her teammates had finished their training that day. She said open-water races inevitably involve frequent collisions between swimmers, as dozens of athletes must swim together in an unpartitioned stretch of water.

“Our biggest concern for now is avoiding any kind of injuries during the game,” Lim said. “As Koreans are innately disadvantaged in terms of physical condition compared with Western athletes, and since our team is inexperienced in controlling such harsh situations, we think collisions could end up being our weak point during the game.”

Even with limited skills and experience standing in the way, the national team hopes the World Championships will be the cornerstone for the future of the sport here.

Freestyle and open-water swimmer Lim Da-youn (Lim Da-youn)
Korea’s national open-water swim team for the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships (Lim Da-youn)

“The start is always the most difficult part,” Lim said. “We’re grateful for everyone rooting for us and sincerely hope we can get our best scores so the open-water discipline can persist in Korea.”

At the Gwangju games, 72 men and 65 women are vying for seven gold medals in separate courses of 5, 10 and 25 kilometers, as well as a 5-kilometer mixed team relay. The events are slated to continue until Friday.

By Choi Ji-won (