Korean swim team back in South Lake Tahoe
To the sound of Sung K. Baek’s shrill whistle, a handful of top-level Korean swimmers are back training in South Lake Tahoe’s pool and on the area’s ski slopes.
“Last year it was the national swimmers,” Baek said, standing at the pool’s edge during Friday morning’s training. “This year it’s my club.”
Baek runs JOB, the largest swim club in Korea. Typically, six to eight of the national team members come from his club, he said. With the Olympics coming up this summer, he’s pushing his team extra hard to be prepared for the country’s qualifiers in April.
“This is kind of developing or improving their aerobic functions,” Baek said. “Naturally, swimming is an aerobic function, except the 50-meter freestyle, so they need a lot of aerobic base.”
This is Baek’s second year bringing swimmers to Lake Tahoe. The high-altitude training increases their lung capacity and performance, he said. As cross training, the group goes cross-country skiing or downhill skiing.
“There are many high-altitude places to train,” Baek said. “But we need to be able to cross-train. Cross-country skiing is optimal.”
It’s been a little tough to get out on the trails this year because there’s been so little snow, Baek said. But when the group has gotten out, it’s been good, he added.
“Spooner was nice,” he said. “When it was snowing, it was fantastic.”
Of course, this winter has hardly been anything like last year’s, when the Koreans first visited South Lake Tahoe.
“Last year, I wasn’t sure if this was a swim squad or a ski squad,” Baek joked.
Still, the training has proved effective for swimmer Minkyu Park, who was deemed the fastest sprint swimmer in Korea last year.
“It’s helped with my fitness, with my endurance,” he said. “The very first period or first few months it’s hard to breathe, but after that it’s okay.”
Baek is developing Park to be a better relay swimmer. Two of the other five swimmers visiting South Lake Tahoe, Youin Jung and Jungmin Lee, are just beginning their training for top positions on the country’s swim team. They’re still teenagers and probably won’t compete on the international level for at least a couple years, Baek said.
“I have a lot of younger swimmers at home who are jealous,” Baek said. “If you’re just starting out, you can’t come here.”
Baek only brings the best swimmers or those with the most potential to the training camp. This year he brought five swimmers to South Lake Tahoe. He hopes in a couple years he’ll have the funding to bring 12.
Though it’s just a small group, the team’s regimented workouts and graceful strokes draw attention from other pool users.
“It’s fun to watch their techniques,” said lifeguard Grace Usui. “Sometimes they’ll swim with converse on.”
The audience can make it awkward for Coach Baek.
“When I get angry, it’s hard to yell at them in front of a lot of people,” Baek said. “But I do it because I’m their coach.”