December 30, 2011 11:01
Short track speed skating star Ahn Hyun-soo has officially become Viktor Ahn. The Russian Skating Union announced on Wednesday that "President Dmitry Medvedev signed the presidential order granting Ahn Russian citizenship on Monday."
The three-time Olympic gold medalist, who won the world championships for five years in a row, said he chose the name because he thought "it would be nice to be as famous in Russia as legendary Korean-Russian rock singer Viktor Choi."
But he said he first consulted with Russian Skating Union President Aleksei Kravtsov in choosing his new name. "I like it because it's like the English word 'victory.' I plan to apply to give up my Korean citizenship when I get a Russian passport at the end of next month," he said.
Ahn was one of Korea's most cherished speed skaters on the short track. He won five consecutive worlds from 2003 and picked up three gold medals at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, with his explosive speed.
But in January 2008, he failed to make it to the national team as he encountered various forms of misfortune, including an injury he sustained during training at the Korea National Training Center, also known as the Taeneung Training Center.
Appreciative of Ahn's skills and diligence, the Russian Skating Union offered him a helping hand -- with the condition that he become a naturalized Russian, as the country looks ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics it will host in Sochi near the Black Sea.
In August last year, Ahn admitted on his blog that he had applied for Russian citizenship, saying, "I'm only focusing on the 2014 Sochi Olympics for now." He said Russia had swayed him with its promise of full support and an environment in which he could dedicate himself to training.
Ahn is automatically on the Russian national team without having to go through tryouts, and is training hard in Novogorsk near Moscow. The camp is also used by Korean rhythmic gymnast and young star Son Yeon-jae.
Russia pays for all of Ahn's training costs, as well as a monthly stipend of US$10,000 (W11.5 million). He will compete at the European Championships in the Czech Republic next month, followed by the World Cup in Moscow in February, where he will take on Korean skaters.
"I've gone through very difficult times [in recent years]. I will only look forward to my future goals from now," he said.
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