Swimming: South Korea's Park pushes case for Rio spot

South Korea's Park Tae-Hwan competes in the final of the men's 1500 metre freestyle during the 88th Dong-A swimming competition.
South Korea's Park Tae-Hwan competes in the final of the men's 1500 metre freestyle during the 88th Dong-A swimming competition. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - Disgraced South Korean swim star Park Tae-Hwan laid out his case Wednesday for being allowed to compete in the Rio Olympics despite an extended ban for doping.

The multiple Olympic medallist completed an 18-month drug suspension last month after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in out-of-competition controls before the 2014 Asian Games.

But he remains barred from competing in Rio de Janeiro under a rule of the Korean Olympic Committee (Koc) that prohibits athletes from representing the country for three years after the expiration of any doping ban.

In an interview with South Korea's largest-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper, Park stressed he was not asking for special treatment, but argued that the Koc regulation was unfair.

"Many people say an athlete who enhanced national prestige should be given a chance, but that would be a privilege," Park said. "I would like to be able to compete after national regulations are changed to meet international standards, not because of a privilege."

The swimmer added it was "regrettable" that the Koc was alone among National Olympic Committees in maintaining and enforcing such an extended ban.

Park has begged for a chance to compete in what would be his third, and almost certainly last, Olympics - at one point getting down on his hands and knees during a press conference.

The Koc has stood firm, although its chief Kim Jung-Haeng on Tuesday appeared to offer a small ray of hope.

"I used to be an athlete myself so, in my purely personal opinion, I think it would be good if Park can compete in the Olympics," Kim told reporters. "Doping is a serious evil that should be rooted out, but polls show more than 70 percent of South Koreans want Park to compete in the Games."

Park, who previously filed an appeal for arbitration at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is set to meet Koc officials next week. The 26-year-old was once the poster-boy of South Korean swimming - courted by advertisers and idolised by fans.

He won 400m freestyle gold and 200m freestyle silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and two silver medals at the 2012 London Olympics, as well as 400m world titles in 2007 and 2011.

On his competitive return to the pool last month, he easily won the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle events at the 88th Dong-A meet, which doubles as a national trial.

His positive doping test was only revealed in January last year, and was initially blamed by Park's management team on the incompetence of a doctor at the hospital where the swimmer was receiving treatment.