SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s Olympic swimming champion Park Tae-hwan choked back the tears on Friday as he apologized for a failed doping test that led to an 18-month ban from the sport and said he wished he could turn back time and do things differently.
Swimming’s governing body FINA handed out the ban on Monday at a hearing in Switzerland after the 25-year-old had tested positive for testosterone ahead of the Asian Games in September.
Park, one of South Korea’s most popular athletes and the face of a host of advertising campaigns, tested positive after he was given a shot at a clinic and said he should have taken more care to find out what the doctor was injecting him with.
”The last few months since the doping results came out have been hell,“ Park told reporters at a Seoul hotel. ”When I first heard that I had tested positive I thought for sure it must be some mistake.
“I thought: ‘Why did this happen to me? What if I didn’t go to that hospital? What if I didn’t let the doctor inject me? If I could only go back in time.”
Park said he had gone to the clinic seeking treatment for a skin complaint and after being prescribed vitamins he had explained to the doctor that he could not take anything that might be on the banned substances list.
The hospital had assured him he was only receiving vitamins, he added.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency has reported that Seoul prosecutors have charged a doctor with professional negligence and the trial is set to begin next month.
A double world champion and the first Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal, Park’s suspension was backdated from Sept. 3 and runs through March 2, 2016, leaving the door open for Park to return in time for the Rio Olympics.
“FINA has left the door open for the Olympics, but nothing has been decided yet,” he said, adding that he had been unable to talk about the case before his March 23 hearing due to FINA confidentiality requirements.
“I want to say sorry to the people for not explaining the situation sooner.”
Park’s case has stunned the sporting community in South Korea, which took enormous pride from his 400 meters freestyle gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I’ve worn the Korean flag since I was 15 and in all that time I never once thought about using drugs,” said Park, the flashes from banks of cameras bursting to life as he spoke.
“Some of those closest to me ask, do you think it’s fair that all your glory over the last 10 years, all the time and effort you have put in, it will all come down to you being a junkie,” he said haltingly, before pausing to compose himself.
Park said he would work hard to restore his reputation and laid out what the episode had cost him.
“Swimming is the only thing I’ve ever known, and now I can no longer do it.”
Additional reporting by Seungyun Oh; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly