Amid many swimmers in expensive, high-tech suits at the Potomac Valley Long Course Senior Championships was K.J. Park. Park wore a black, low-tech Speedo, the kind swimmers used to wear in competition, but now typically just wear for practice.
“I just don’t want to get to the point where I know I’ve worn the fastest suit,” Park said, after winning the boys 200-meter breaststroke at the University of Maryland. He finished the race in 2 minutes, 24.85 seconds, a personal best in what is one of his strongest events.
Park, 17, also managed to top a handful of college swimmers, including Maryland’s Andrew Relihan, and Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club’s Alexander Morres, who won the morning heats with a time of 2:22.57. Park wasn’t the only young swimmer to defy age and experience Saturday: RMSC’s Elizabeth Pepper, 15, held on to win the women’s 400-freestyle in 4:22.57, besting Liz Kemp and Leslie Swinley, both 21 and Curl-Burke swimmers, who finished third and fourth.
For Park, going against the trend with his suit isn’t too surprising. The Curl-Burke product competed earlier this month at the Korean American National Sports Festival in Chicago, where he won three events – the 200 breast, the 100 breast and the 200 individual medley – and qualified for Korea’s national championship meet in October.
Other swimmers might jump at the chance to compete in their native countries – Park was born in South Korea and lived near Seoul until he was 7 – but Park has his sights set on college, and the meet falls right on top of when he’s scheduled to take the SATs, which he’s been studying for all summer.
The SAT is pretty important when you’re trying to get into schools like Harvard, Columbia and Princeton, like Park is. He will be a senior this fall at Oakton High School and plans to major in engineering.
“He’s probably got to take care of [the SAT] because he wants to go to a very high-level school,” Curle-Burke Coach John Flanagan said. Additionally, the Korean national championship is a long-course meet, Flanagan said, and by October, American clubs are well into their short-course seasons.
Park competed at the Korean nationals in 2007, but didn’t place. He said he was able to use it as a learning experience. He didn’t go last year, either. Also to focus on school.
Once he gets to college, Flanagan said, Park has the opportunity to blossom into an “amazing college swimmer.”
Jeremy Linn, a Curl-Burke coach who won two swimming medals at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, agreed about Park’s talent.
“I think he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be,” Linn said.
Park said he intended to use his PVS swim to help him learn from his mistakes – a slow start off the blocks doomed him in Friday’s 100-meter breaststroke, where he finished fourth 1:06.94 – and apply them at sectionals in Buffalo in two weeks. There, he said he hopes to set another best time in the 200. He’s shooting for a 2:22.
And a 2200 on the SAT.
Girls 200 breaststroke: Jenny Wilson, 2:36.13; Boys 200 breaststroke: K.J. Park, 2:27.85; Girls 50-meter freestyle: Hannah Davis, 26.45; Boys 50 freestyle: Tim Lane, 23.90; Girls 100 backstroke: Kaitlin Mills, 1:04.71; Boys 100 backstroke: David Wren, 57.62; Girls 400 freestyle: Elizabeth Pepper, 4:22.57; Boys 400 freestyle: Michael Flach, 4:09.47; Girls 400 medley relay: Curl-Burke A; Boys 400 medley relay: Snowbird Aquatics A.