In the early stages of the men's 5km open water swimming race at the FINA World Championships on Saturday, South Korean Baek Seung-ho took an errant elbow from another contestant to the nose.
It stung him so much that Baek had trouble breathing. He briefly thought about pulling out but then Baek remembered who he was racing for.
"I didn't want to embarrass myself while representing my country," Baek said after finishing in 48th place at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park in Yeosu, a city about 100 kilometers south of the main host city, Gwangju. "That mindset kept me going until the end."
Baek and countryman Cho Jae-hoo were the first South Koreans to compete in open water swimming at the FINA worlds. Baek was eyeing a top-30 finish in the field of 61, but the unfortunate incident cost him precious seconds. He finished in 57:05.30, nearly four minutes behind the champion, Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary.
"I had enough training under the belt, but I didn't have enough competitive experience and I panicked when something unexpected happened," Baek said. "And once I fell back of the pack, it was difficult to make up the ground. My muscles tightened up and my pace all got messed up. I wanted to swim better before Korean fans, and I'll regret this for a long time."
Baek's famous wife, pro volleyball star Bae Yoo-na, was anxiously watching her husband compete. The two tied the knot in April this year, but with Baek preparing for the world championships, they've barely spent time together. They haven't even gone on a honeymoon yet, Bae said.
"I didn't want my husband to miss out on a great competition like this," said Bae, who only found out about the injured nose well after the race. "Because I am an athlete myself, I know how tough it must have been for him. I am so proud of him for finishing this race without giving up." (Yonhap)