SEOUL (Reuters) - Former Olympic swimming champion Park Tae-hwan has apologized to his fans after the South Korean was handed an 18-month ban for failing a drugs test.
His hopes of competing in the 2016 Rio Games are in jeopardy after swimming's governing body (FINA) suspended the twice world champion on Monday for testing positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition check in September.
"Park Tae-hwan and his agency would like to sincerely apologize for the positive drug test result and for disappointing those who continue to support Park," his representatives Team GMP said in a brief statement.
FINA said the suspension would start on Sept. 3, 2014 and end on March 2, 2016.
An appeal against the decision must be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days.
The 25-year-old Park has no chance of competing in Rio under the existing rules of the Korean Olympic Committee but the KOC is refusing to rule out that possibility.
"According to the rule on nation team athlete selection under KOC regulations, anyone who has been subject to disciplinary action for doping cannot be selected as a national athlete for three years following the end of the disciplinary period," said spokesperson Park Dong-hee.
"Once the 18-month disciplinary period is over, and if(Park's) participation in the Rio Olympics becomes a social issue, it will be possible to review the revision of athlete selection rules from the perspective of what is best for national interest."
Known affectionately as 'Marine Boy', Park became a national hero in South Korea when he powered his way to gold in the 400 meters freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Local media said the positive test was a result of a local hospital giving him an injection that contained testosterone.
Seoul prosecutors have charged a doctor with professional negligence, according to Yonhap news agency.
(Writing by Amlan Chakraborty, reporting by Seoul newsroom, editing by Tony Jimenez)