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Park claims 400 meters gold medal

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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Park Tae-hwan stormed home to win the men's 400 meters freestyle final at the world swimming championships on Sunday to become the first South Korean to win a world title.

The 17-year-old flashed down the final lap after turning in fourth place to win the gold in three minutes 44.30 seconds, more than four seconds outside the world record of 3:40.08 set by the retired Australian Ian Thorpe.

Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia was second in 3:45.12 while Australia's Grant Hackett finished third in 3:45.43 after leading through the first 300m from the outside lane.

"I wasn't going to go at the pace of Hackett," Park told reporters through a translator.

"Then after 200m I started to push and went even harder in the last 50m. I am mentally really tired but confident after I've got the gold medal."

Hackett was the favorite to win the title after his victory in Montreal two years ago but has been struggling for form since switching coaches and only just sneaked into the final in eighth place.

"After this morning I felt awful and I was questioning what I was going to swim, and from lane eight it's a difficult to be competitive with guys in the middle lanes," he said.

"I gave it my best shot and hoped I was at the pointy end of the field, I was, but unfortunately not with the gold medal."

Park burst on to the world stage last year when he won the 400m-1500m freestyle double at the Pan pacific championships in Canada then seven medals, including three golds, at the Asian Games in Qatar.

He joined Japanese breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima as the only Asian men to win world titles.

American Michael Phelps said his team's comfortable victory in the 4x100m freestyle relay was the ideal platform to build a memorable world championship campaign.

Phelps, Neil Walker, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak took gold in three minutes 12.72 seconds, 0.26 outside the world record the U.S. set in Canada last year.

The victory took Phelps' tally of world titles to 11 and put the 21-year-old on target for a potential eight golds at this meet.

"One down, one behind. After tonight that race is no longer in my memory," he told reporters after leading his team to the front with an opening leg of 48.42 seconds.

Italy finished second in 3:14.04, with France third in 3:14.68.

The 22-year-old Cullen, who claimed his first world championship medal, was unconcerned about missing out on the world record.

"I swam the second fastest time ever so it's not too bad," said Cullen.

"I was faster in the final than I was in the morning. I probably could have taken off a few 100ths of a second earlier."

Manaudou retains title

Laure Manaudou of France won the women's 400 meters freestyle final to retain the title she won in Montreal two years ago.

Manaudou, 20, led from start to finish to win the gold in four minutes 02.61 seconds, the second fastest time in history and 0.48 seconds outside the world record of 4:02.13 she set in Budapest last year.

"I am really relieved, I had to keep my title. On the distance, there is more competition, everybody swims faster," Manaudou told French television.

"It's easier for me to take a very fast start. It makes things psychologically much harder for my rivals.

"I wanted to do better, I wanted to beat the record," she said. "Now there will be less pressure as I don't have a title to defend."

Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland, the Olympic champion for 200m butterfly, was second in 4:04.23 while Japan's 800m freestyle champion Ai Shibata was third in 4:05.19.

Manaudou showed her rivals a clean pair of heels from the start, opening up a body length's lead on the first lap and racing through the first 300m under world record pace before fading on the last 100m.

Australia won the women's 4x100 meters freestyle relay final to successfully defend the title they won in Montreal two years ago.

Libby Lenton, Melanie Schlanger, Shayne Reese and Jodie Henry won the gold in a combined time of three minutes 35.48 seconds, just 0.26 outside the world record.

The United States finished second in 3:35.68 with the Netherlands taking the bronze in 3:36.81. The current world record holders Germany finished fourth.

Lenton gave the Australians a flying start when she swam the lead-off leg in 53.42 seconds, the second fastest time in history, but the U.S led at the final change.

Henry, the reigning world and Olympic champion for the individual 100m freestyle, dived in a body length behind Amanda Weir but reeled in the leader over the final 10m to win the gold for the host nation.

Park won seven medals at the Asian Games in Qatar.

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