By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 10. FOR months, Korea's Tae Hwan Park has discussed his intentions of breaking Ian Thorpe's world record in the 400 freestyle. Well, Park didn't get the global standard, but he did capture his first Olympic title. Comfortable from the start, Park bested the competition with a sterling time of 3:41.86.
Still only 18 years old, Park was with Aussie great Grant Hackett for the early part of the race, then opened up during the latter half of the event to become the second-fastest man in history, trailing only Thorpe. The reigning world champion in the event, Park pushed the tempo at the right time because China's Zhang Lin closed with a flourish.
Delighting the home crowd with a silver-medal effort, Zhang reeled in his competition on the last lap, moving from sixth to second on the strength of a 26.15 split. Zhang will be a major contender for a gold medal in the 1500 freestyle, his strongest event. He was followed in the bronze-medal slot by Larsen Jensen, who lowered his American record to 3:42.78. Jensen, too, is stronger in the 1500 and could better the silver he won in that event in Athens.
American Peter Vanderkaay delivered a strong swim on his way to fourth in 3:43.11, just ahead of the 3:43.45 of Tunisia's Ous Mellouli. Aussie Grant Hackett, the silver medalist in the event from Athens, was sixth in 3:43.84. Hackett went out quickly and led at the 100-meter mark, but couldn't keep pace over the last few laps. Whether Hackett can win a third straight 1500 free title is now a question mark. The Russian duo of Yuri Prilukov (3:43.97) and Nikita Lobintsev (3:48.29) rounded out the field.