South Korea’s hero Park Tae-hwan tearful after failing drug test

Park Tae-hwan
In South Korea Park Tae-hwan is something of a sporting hero. The winner of the country’s only ever swimming gold medal (400 Freestyle at the Beijing Olympics), the athlete with the nickname ‘Marine Boy’ has been used to advertise a whole host of products in his native country.

But now he is serving an 18 months ban for testing positive for testosterone in an out of competition drugs test by the sport’s governing body, FINA. 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 at the conference 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 Park Tae-hwan’s 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 won the country’s only other three Olympic swimming medals, including a silver in Beijing and two more silver medals at the 2012 London Games.

However, 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 Rio.

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 including, most famously, Chinese rival Sun Yang, a two-time Olympic champion, who served a three-month suspension last year which only came to light outside of China after he had served the ban.