Korean swim team trains in Tahoe

STATELINE - Part of the Korean national swim team is training for the 2012 Olympics in South Lake Tahoe - and not just at the pool. The group of five sprinters and one butterfly competitor led by coach Sung K. Baek also is hitting the slopes with hopes that the high-altitude exercise will heighten their abilities in the water.

"If you ski all day, it's a lot of work, but it's fun," Baek said. "If you run all day, it's boring."

The group has been swimming in the morning and skiing in the afternoons since December. To the whistle of Coach Baek, the swimmers train in the pool for two hours. Afterward, they go cross-country skiing three days a week or they go to the resorts for downhill the other three days.

"We have the Epic season pass, so we can go to Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Northstar. We also have Kirkwood passes," said Baek, who has been skiing for 30 years. "I love Kirkwood. It's steep and deep."

The idea to use South Lake Tahoe for a training camp first came to Baek when he visited the area on his honeymoon in 1998. After several more ski trips to the area and a tour of the pool, he made up his mind, he said.

"When I made a plan to high-altitude train, I said, 'What places?' I need adequate altitude and length," Baek said.

Throughout his 20 years of swim coaching, Baek said he had never tried high-altitude training or ski training before, but the swimmers seemed to like it.

"It's very good for the lower body, the waist and the legs," said 20-year-old Jungkwang Park, who is practicing the butterfly stroke.

The pool is happy to host the Korean team, said Parks and Recreation director Stan Sherer.

"It's exciting," Sherer said. "The community has embraced it. We get a lot of people who come by to watch. They're really disciplined, hard-working athletes."

If they qualify, the six swimmers will appear at the 2012 games in London, their first Olympics. This year, the group will attend the world championships in Shanghai, China. Korean superstar swimmer Park Tae Hwan, who won a gold metal in the 400 meter freestyle at the 2008 Olympics, was not with the group.

Though their training schedule is rigorous, the group has had some time to see the area, Baek said. They visited Grover Hot Springs and Baek has had time to enjoy one of his other hobbies.

"I love to play poker," he said. "But they can't go to the casinos."


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