Born in Seoul in 1989, Park graduated from Dankook University in February 2012, where he majored in physical education. His father is a saxophone player and his mother is a dancer. He currently serves as a goodwill ambassador for 'Dynamic Korea', South Korea's international image-making campaign, alongside international figure skater Kim Yu-Na. Park Tae-hwan is one of Asia's top men's freestyle swimmers. He was voted Most Valuable Player at the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar where he won seven medals including three gold. The 22-year-old trains in Melbourne and is also a Pan Pacific Champion. He was voted Swimming World's Pacific Rim Swimmer of the Year in 2006.
Park, as an Olympic and Asian Games medalist, has been granted an exemption from two years of mandatory military service, however is still required to undergo four weeks of basic training, which he reported for on 4 October 2012.
Park began swimming at the age of 5 when his doctor suggested it would be good for his asthma. He began his competitive swimming career at the age of 7, earning several medals in junior competitions. This early success led to Park's selection to the Korean Swimming Federation as a national team member in 2003. At the 2004 Summer Olympics, however, Park was disqualified for a false start in the preliminary heat of the men's 400 m freestyle. However, shortly thereafter at the 2004 Fina Swimming World Cup, Park was the runner-up in the men's 400 meter freestyle event. At 2011's Santa Clara Grand Prix, Park beat Michael Phelps in the 100 meter freestyle, winning by more than half a second.
Park continued his competitive success in subsequent years, most notably at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, where he won three golds, one silver and three bronze medals, the most medals won by a single athlete at the Games. He also set two Asian Records. For his success, Park was named an Athlete of the Games.
Just after a stunning victory against idol Grant Hackett in the men's 400m freestyle at the 2007 World Aquatics Championships in Melbourne, Park decided to train alone in Sydney, Australia as his own '500-day project', parting with his personal managing team in December 2007. He then joined the Korean national team training base in February 2008 to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Under Park's personal coach Roh Min-sang and other members of the coaching staff, the national team trained in Malaysia (February 2008) and Guam (May 2008) to prepare Park for his second attempt at the Olympics. He qualified for competition in the men's 200 meter, 400 meter and 1500 meter freestyle events.
During the 400-meter qualifying heat race, Park was initially disqualified for a false start. Shortly after the South Korean Federation met with the FINA bureau the ruling was successfully overturned and Park was reinstated into the race. He won silver in the finals of the 400-meter race.
In his third and final event, 1500 m freestyle, Park posted a South Korean record of 14:50.61, but missed the podium by a 10.3-second margin behind defending Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia.