By Hyung-Jin Kim
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A tearful former Olympic swimming champion, Park Tae-hwan of South Korea, offered an impassioned public apology Friday, four days after receiving an 18-month ban for failing a doping test.
Park, who won South Korea’s only ever swimming gold in the 400 meters freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games, was handed the ban Monday by world swimming governing body FINA after testing positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition drug test. The FINA ban began retroactively the day of the positive test in early September and will expire on March 2, 2016.
Park’s agency has blamed the results on an injection administered by a local hospital, which offered him free chiropractic and other treatments in July.
Park said in a news conference Friday he’s sorry for having disappointed his fans and the South Korean people and that he will have time to “deeply reflect on myself.”
A teary Park said the last few months were like “hell” for him, which he also described as “the difficult and lonely time that I felt like dying.”
“The 18 months that I’m stripped of the rights as a swimmer will probably be the most difficult moment for me,” he added.
It was his first public appearance since the 25-year-old was informed of the results of his doping test in late October, according to his agency Team GMP.
Park has been one of the most popular athletes in the South Korea since his Olympic win. He also owns the country’s only other three Olympic swimming medals. Park added a silver in Beijing, and two more silver medals at the 2012 London Games.
South Korea’s Olympic body said Thursday it was considering easing its eligibility rules for athletes entering international competitions, which would allow Park a chance at qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Park said Friday he wants to finish his swimming career honorably but declined to comment on the 2016 Olympics.
“It’s not time to talk about future here as I made a mistake that I myself couldn’t accept,” he said.
Park is the latest in a long list of accomplished swimmers to be handed doping bans recently, with Chinese rival Sun Yang — a two-time Olympic champion — having served a three-month suspension last year. (end)