By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, June 21 (Yonhap) -- Even with his first world championship medal around his neck, South Korean swimming sensation Hwang Sun-woo is far from satisfied. He now wants to get the better of a fellow teenager who beat him for the coveted world title in Hungary.
Hwang, 19, claimed the silver medal in the men's 200m freestyle at the FINA World Championships in Budapest on Monday (local time), with a new South Korean record and personal best of 1:44.47. David Popovici of Romania, 17, became the youngest 200m free world champion ever with a time of 1:43.21, a new world junior record.
Hwang made history of his own too. His silver was the best performance by a South Korean in the men's 200m freestyle, bettering the bronze won by Park Tae-hwan in 2007. Hwang also joined Park, who also won gold medals in the 400m freestyle in 2007 and 2011, as the only South Korean swimmers to reach a podium at world championships. Hwang and Park are among just four Asians to have won a medal in the men's 200m freestyle.
But Popovici stood between Hwang and an even bigger piece of history. The precocious Romanian won the semifinals Sunday with a time of 1:44.40, breaking Hwang's world junior record by 0.22 second. Popovici then broke his own mark in the final.
"People regard me and Popovici as rivals because we are similar in age, and Popovici posted an outstanding time in the final here by finishing in the 1:43s," Hwang said, in a transcript provided by his Seoul-based agency, All That Sports. "I am determined to work even harder to join him in that range."
Hwang first offered a glimpse into a bright future at last summer's Tokyo Olympics. He placed seventh in the 200m freestyle final with 1:45.26. He was in the lead through the first 150m but had the worst split time over the final 50m to end up outside the podium.
Hwang had set a world junior record with 1:44.62 in the heats, but his times worsened in the semifinals and in the final, while the medalists went in the opposite direction.
In Budapest, Hwang showed more maturity in his race management. He was fourth through the first 100m, but had the second-fastest split over the last 100m, behind only Popovici.
"At the Tokyo Olympics, I didn't have enough experience. I overpaced myself early and ran out of gas near the end," Hwang said, looking back. "In this race, I tried to build on last year's experience and kick into a higher gear in the latter stages. That strategy paid dividends with the silver medal."
This is Hwang's second world championship appearance. In 2019, though, Hwang only competed in the 4X200m freestyle relay. The 200m freestyle in Budapest was Hwang's individual world championship debut.
Up next for Hwang is the 100m freestyle, whose heats are scheduled for Tuesday morning in the Hungarian capital.
Hwang has the 32nd fastest time in the 100m freestyle this year with 48.42 seconds. Five swimmers have come under 48 seconds so far this season, with Vladislav Grinev of Russia ranking No. 1 with 47.78 seconds. All Russian athletes have been banned from FINA events, however, following their country's invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Caeleb Dressel of the United States won the 2019 world title in 46.96 seconds, and he ranks second this season behind Grinev with 47.79 seconds. The top five swimmers at the 2019 race were all faster than 48 seconds.
Hwang will likely have to break the 48-second mark if he is to have any shot at his second medal in Hungary. Hwang's personal best time in the 100m free is 47.56 seconds, an Asian record he set during the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics.
"I will try to advance through the semifinals and the final, and put on a strong performance again in the 100m," Hwang said.