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South Korea's Park Tae-hwan shows he's back in top form with 400 free victory at swim worlds
SHANGHAI (AP) ' Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan of South Korea showed he's back in top form by winning the first gold medal in the traditional swimming events at the world championships Sunday.
Park took the lead back midway through the 400-meter freestyle then pulled away over the last two laps to touch in 3 minutes, 42.04 seconds, a distant 1.20 seconds in front of rising Chinese rival Sun Yang.
"I (was) glad to swim in lane one, which allowed me to fully concentrate on my own tempo and not to get distracted from the competition," Park said.
Defending champion and world record holder Paul Biedermann settled for third, 2.10 back.
"I'm really pleased with this time," Biedermann said. "It's the best I could do at the moment. I felt pretty bad during the race. ... I saw Park and I thought, 'Well this guy is away, don't look at him anymore, look at silver or bronze.'"
Park's gold at the 2008 Beijing Games was South Korea's first Olympic victory in swimming and it made him immensely popular at home, having also won this event at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne, Australia.
But then Park failed to qualify for the final at the last worlds in Rome two years ago. He showed signs of a recovery by sweeping the 200 and 400 free at the Guangzhou Asian Games in November, and now he will clearly go into next year's London Olympics as the favorite again.
Three more finals were on the schedule later: Italy's Federica Pellegrini was attempting to defend her title in the women's 400 free, the Netherlands was aiming for another world record in the women's 400 free relay ' and capping it all off ' Michael Phelps was expected to swim leadoff for the United States in the men's 400 free relay.