(Asiad) Fantasy becomes reality for surprise butterfly champion

Fitting for a swimmer who competes in butterfly races, South Korean Baek In-chul thought he could fly Thursday night, so happy was he after sprinting to a shock gold medal at the Asian Games here in China.

"I thought I could fly to the sky," Baek said, moments after taking the men's 50-meter butterfly title with a new competition record time of 23.29 seconds. "I am so happy to win this gold and play my part to help Korean swimming."

Baek won the heats held Thursday morning with an Asian Games record of 23.39 seconds, and that record came down less than 12 hours later.

Baek said he thought he should have gone even faster in the final.

"I don't typically feel great in the morning, but when I posted such a great record today, I figured I could do much better in the final tonight," Baek said. "I didn't shave as much time off that record as I thought I could. So even with this gold medal, I am a bit bummed out."

Baek became the first South Korean man to win a butterfly gold medal at an Asiad. When informed of this milestone, Baek said, "I am honored to have written Korean swimming history."

The 50m race ended so quickly and swimmers were so tightly bunched up that Baek said he had no idea he'd won the gold until he saw his name on top of the scoreboard.

"I was so caught up with my own race," he said. "I barely had time to worry about other swimmers."

In fact, Baek had been so preoccupied with his competition that he said he didn't even know how he was going to celebrate his gold medal.

The one thing he was looking forward to doing was standing on the podium.

"I am so proud to be representing Korea. I've always wanted to hear the national anthem from the top of the podium," Baek said. "This will become reality. I can't wait to see what it feels like."

Baek has been breaking the national record at an impressive rate. He first set the mark with 23.67 seconds on Nov. 5, 2022. He matched that mark on March 13 this year, and went 23.50 seconds 15 days later.

"I think I have great focus when I train," Baek said. "I think I have a clear idea of what I have to do to keep improving."

Baek said he was inspired by the earlier success of his training partner Ji Yu-chan, the first shock swimming champ for South Korea here who sprinted to 50m freestyle gold on Monday. Ji had also set an Asian Games record.

"After seeing Yu-chan win the gold medal, my teammates all turned to me and said they expected to see the same from me," Baek said with a smile. "I felt a lot of pressure to come through, but at the same time, I was confident I could get it done."

Source: Yonhap News Agency