Disgraced South Korean swim star Park Tae-Hwan made an emotional public apology over his failed doping test Friday, fighting back tears and begging to be forgiven.
“I sincerely apologise … It’s all my fault,” Park said in his first press conference since being slapped with an 18-month suspension by world swimming body FINA.
Dressed in a sombre suit and tie, the 25-year-old had to break off several times as he fought to maintain control of his emotions.
“I bow with shame and beg for forgiveness,” he said.
Known affectionately as “Marine Boy” in South Korea, where he is something of a national icon, Park tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid at an out-of-competition control before the Asian Games on September 3 last year.
The positive test sent shock waves through the sport in South Korea, where prosecutors last month announced charges against a doctor for giving Park an injection without disclosing it contained the banned steroid testosterone.
Park blamed the injection — administered last July — for the positive drug test of urine samples he provided in September.
At Friday’s press conference, Park maintained that he had never knowingly taken a banned substance, but acknowledged that he was ultimately responsible for what happened.
“Initially I thought I would be pardoned because I did not do it intentionally, but as the hearings got underway, I came to regret that I failed to check what I was receiving when I visited the hospital and received treatment,” Park said.
“Regardless of whether there was any intention or not, I apologise for causing such a controversy,” he added.
Park — who has six Asian Games titles to his name — won 400m freestyle gold and 200m freestyle silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
He also won silver in both events at the 2012 London Olympics, along with 400m gold in the world championships in 2007 and 2011.
The FINA ban ends in March 2016, which theoretically gives Park time to prepare for the Olympics, but a new rule instituted by the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) last year could see him miss the Rio event.
The rule bars any athlete suspended for doping from competing with the national team for three years. In Park’s case, that would bar him until March 2019 — by which time the 25-year-old would be past his best.
KOC officials have suggested there might be room for “flexibility” in enforcing the regulation.
Earlier this week, the head of the Korean national swimming federation said Park needed to offer a full, public apology before any discussion on when he might return to competition. – Agence France-Presse