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  • Apr 21, 2014
  • Updated: 3:43am
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WINTER OLYMPICS

Defection row overshadows South Korean Viktor Ahn’s skating victory for Russia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 11:39am

It was a night when Viktor Ahn should have been out celebrating becoming the most successful short track speed skater of all time but instead he was quizzed from all sides at the Sochi Olympics about why he defected to Russia.

Ahn confirmed his place among the greatest Winter Olympians when he won the 500 metres individual event then returned to the ice about 45 minutes later and helped Russia win the 5,000m relay. Ahn also won gold in the 1,000m at Sochi and now has six Olympic gold medals in total - more than any speed skater either in short track or the more traditional long course.

I took the decision and have no regrets about this
Viktor Ahn

If the skater formerly known as Ahn Hyun-soo, who won three golds for South Korea at the 2006 Turin Olympics, thought he would clarify his position once and for all at a packed news conference starting after midnight he was clearly mistaken. 

Rather than clearing up the misunderstandings, it only served to cause even more confusion as Ahn and Russian speedskating federation president Aleksei Kravtsov kept contradicting each other.

Instead of asking Ahn how he felt about winning three golds for the host nation at these Games – taking the 28-year-old’s Olympic tally to a record six golds for a short track skater – the duo were bluntly asked: “Did Russia buy Viktor Ahn?”

“Please make no illusions that Viktor Ahn was bought and that there were some commercial offers for Viktor to change his citizenship and move to Russia. No way,” Kravtsov said through a translator.

Once that was out of the way, however, it seemed the two could not agree at what point Ahn sought Russian citizenship.

“When I came to Russia, at the start I did not have any intention of changing nationality,” Ahn, speaking in Korean, explained through another translator.

“I only came to train. I had an injury so I needed people who had trust in me.”

Kravtsov remembered a different version of events.

“I want to make something clear as I don’t think Viktor was translated correctly, but from the very beginning when he came to Russia it was with the intention to perform for Russia at the Sochi Games. Men in Korea cannot have duel citizenship but women can, so it was always the case he would have to give that up.

“In March 2011, I received a letter in my mailbox at the Russian skating union. It was in English. It was from Viktor’s uncle, who is also his agent. He said Viktor wanted to train in Russia, so I invited them to Moscow and that is how it started.”

At times Ahn looked bemused at what was unfolding in front of him, but he once again he repeated: “When I started off from Korea, I did not think I would become a Russian citizen.

“But my goal was to compete at another Olympics so I took the decision and have no regrets about this.”

Before the Sochi Games, Ahn had already gone on record to say that he switched nationalities after being overlooked by the South Korean federation for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The South Korean Skating Union (KSU) has suffered a backlash for not looking after Ahn’s interests, while the country’s government launched an official inquiry into how the skater was allowed to slip through the system and change allegiance.

The midnight press conference, however, failed to shed any new light on the matter.

What instead came out from Ahn was that he has a marriage certificate “but a wedding ceremony with my girlfriend/wife has yet to take place” and how his dad fanned controversy about his switch to Russia which led to “some conflicts with my father”.

The one thing Ahn did want to make clear though was that he did not take pleasure in seeing his former teammates fail so badly in the short track events in Sochi.

While Ahn’s medal count in Russia stands at three golds and a bronze, his male counterparts from South Korea will go home empty handed for the first time since 2002.

“I don’t want too much controversy in Korea because of me. There are so many articles comparing me with the Korean athletes. I regret that sincerely,” added Ahn, as he glided his fingers through his dyed ginger hair.

“My performance was always compared to the Korean skaters’ performance. That gave me a tough time during the Games. What fault was it of theirs? They trained very hard.

“They had tough times here and it was very difficult for me to see that.”

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kieran.tsao
regret that sincerely,” added Ahn, as he glided his fingers through his dyed ginger hair.
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This says it all really. Trying to be white. Like millions of other asians.
howyadoin
What on earth are you talking about? He's known for dyeing his hair various colours including red, orange and gold. This has got nothing to do with wanting to be "white." It's about finding a national association that would fully support him in his quest to win more gold medals. South Korea would not support him, so he considered naturalising in other countries including the US and Russia. In the end, he chose Russia.
kieran.tsao
"" It's about finding a national association that would fully support him in his quest to win more gold medals. "
There it is. "National association". End of. Like I said, you bring in other factors - yes, even for personal pursuits - and you are abandoning your nation for individual reasons. Thus you stop representing a nation.
If we pushed this to its natural conclusion, all the champions of the world would be competing for the country that offers the best funding and history of wins for that sport. Thus defeating the point of nations in the first place.
howyadoin
End of what?
Your point keeps changing. First, it's about "wanting to be white."
Then it's about changing nations.
What if he chose Japan? Does he still want to be "white"?
kieran.tsao
As I said elsewhere, f there's something wrong with your country, you deal with it within. Did the US ice skating girl of asian origin with gold medal prospects defect to another country because they picked a blonde girl from Germany with not much hope as her replacement, because she was better with sponsors? No.
This is not a football transfer market. It is the Olympics. Where your country of representation should be set in stone - usually the place of birth or where you grew up.
A good example is the star Russian captain of the men's ice hockey team. He plays for an American team in the NHL, thus spends most of his time there. He could easily be accepted into the US team at national level, but he is Russian through and through. So he represents Russia.
howyadoin
" Where your country of representation should be set in stone"
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The statement is idealistic yet naive. Many athletes have switched countries. It happens in HK too where many "white" athletes (as you say), have represented HK in rugby after obtaining residency.
kieran.tsao
Like I said, that is fine at club level. But at national level? What's the point of countries if people switch their nationality, for a sport... for anything? These people are swapping out their identities as if they were trading cars.
gcmaster
Thats messed up.

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