World Championships: Kim Woo-Min Wins First South Korean Gold in Decade in 400 Free

Photo Courtesy: G.Perottino/Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

World Championships: Kim Woo-Min Wins First South Korean Gold in Decade in 400 Free

South Korea’s Kim Woo-Min started the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha with a thrilling win in the men’s 400 freestyle, a historic gold medal for his country that may well set the template for the week ahead.

Kim was first at every wall from 100 meters on to win in 3:42.71 He just held off a charge by Australia’s Elijah Winnington and Lukas Martens of Germany.

The gold medal is the first for South Korea at a World Championships since 2013, when Park Tae-Hwan won this same event.

In what is likely to be a theme at this Worlds, the event was missing the gold medalist from last summer’s World Championships, Australian Sam Short. The final was also without the presumptive favorite, Ahmed Hafnaoui, but that was due to the Tunisian finishing just 17th in prelims. It’s a bit of a surprise from the reigning Olympic champ and the silver medalist at last year’s Worlds.

Only two holdovers remain from the Olympic final in 2021. One was Winnington, who won gold at the 2022 World Championships. The other is Austrian veteran Felix Aubock.

Kim has been a fixture in the finals of recent meets. The 22-year-old was sixth in the 400 free at Worlds in 2022 and fifth in 2023. His best time at those events was 3:43.92 last summer.

Kim asserted himself early Sunday, going to the lead after 100 meters. He stayed in the lead, consistently splitting 28-lows. It came at a price, and his final-50 split of 28.78 was only the fifth-fastest in the field. But he led by 1.5 seconds at the 300-meter wall, enough to hold off the field.

“I was planning a race like this, I always try to give fast pace and push as hard as I can from the start,” Kim said. “In the beginning I couldn’t see where my rivals were, but in the last 50 metres, I knew they were getting really close. In the end, I pushed with all the energy I had left and I just hoped that I would be the one to finish first.”

Winnington jumped from third to second in the final 50 and was .15 seconds from closing the gap to Kim, finishing in 3:42.86. (His winning time in 2022 was 3:41.22.) Martens was a quarter-second back of Kim in 3:42.96.

Winnington has had an uneven Olympic quad, though that isn’t entirely out of character among the Australian men’s program. Some of that has been the emergence of Short, who had a tremendous 2023 in what seems like the constant conveyor belt of talent Down Under, where stars are readily refreshed.

But Winnington’s swim Sunday showed that he’s nowhere near ready to be one-and-done on the Olympic stage.

“I am in a really good head space,” said Winnington, who turned 24 in May. “Coming back off the disappointing Olympics, my first one in Tokyo, I had a really good 2022 and a disappointing last year. Now I’m in a really good stride. That is the second-best time of my career and I am really happy. I went back and changed a lot with my gym program. Also mentally, I’m in a really good head space, I’m enjoying my swimming.

“The World Championships last year in Fukuoka, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the defending world champion. This time, I just wanted to have no pressure on me and go out there and just enjoy it.”

Guilherme Costa finished fourth in 3:44.22, the Brazilian just shy of adding to his bronze medal in 2022. Lucas Henveaux was fifth, with Sweden’s Victor Johansson sixth. Ireland’s Daniel Wiffen was seventh, with Aubock eighth.

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