Park wins three titles at Santa Clara Grand Prix

South Korean swimming star Park Tae-hwan has notched three victories at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, showing his best form ahead of the World Championships in July.

Park finished first in the men’s 200-meter freestyle final on Sunday at the Santa Clara Swim Club in California, beating Australian Ryan Napoleon with a new meet record of 1 minute 45:92 seconds.
Korea’s Park Tae-hwan (right) and Michael Phelps shake hands after their 100-meter freestyle race. (AP-Yonhap News)

The victory came after Park defeated American swim great Michael Phelps for the first time to win the 100 freestyle. The 22-year-old won the event in 48.92 seconds on Saturday, ahead of the 14-time Olympic gold medalist who finished second in 49.61. Phelps, who claimed the 100 butterfly title in 52.41 seconds earlier at the competition, was hoping to dominate the home event, but was denied by the Korean.

The American star admitted that he was unable to catch up with Park in the 100 free. “I just couldn’t get into it. I just couldn’t run him down,” he said after the race.

Park also won the 400 freestyle with a comfortable victory over Canadian Ryan Cochrane by a margin of 5.06 seconds in 3:44.99.

The Santa Clara Grand Prix has been seen as a warm-up event for next month’s World Championships in Shanghai. The world’s leading swimmers, including Phelps, are competing at the event, in order to tune-up for the championships. Park was not scheduled to compete in Santa Clara, but joined in the event in order to square off against Phelps.

Since 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, the Korean swimmer has trained with Australian coach Michael Bohl in Brisbane, Australia. He has recently completed a three-week long high-altitude training stint in Mexico.

Park said earlier that he was determined to make up for his disappointing 2009 World Championships. The Olympic medalist, who claimed the 400 freestyle gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, failed to make it to any of the 200, 400 and 1,500 finals at the World Championships in Rome.

But, despite the disappointing 2009 season, Park came back brilliantly to claim seven medals, including three golds, at the 2010 Asian Games.

After showing his best form in Santa Clara, observers claim that Park is now at his peak, and this July competition could be another victorious stage for him.

However, Park noted earlier that he was not only aiming to win a medal but also setting a new record in July in preparation for the 2010 London Olympics.

Park’s personal best is 1:44:80 in the 200 freestyle, and 3:41:53 in the 400, set at the 2010 Asian Games. He is now scheduled to compete on Monday in the 200 medley at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, and will head back to Australia with his coach for overseas training until the July competition.

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