Russian short track skater Viktor Ahn, born Ahn Hyun-soo in Korea, won a gold medal at the 1,000-m race at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday, bringing Russia its first-ever gold in that event.
Many Korean sports fans applauded Ahn as he was seen on TV waving the Russian flag following his victory. But at the same time they also felt a sense of loss since Ahn was a former member of Team Korea who won three gold medals and one bronze medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics before he became a naturalized Russian citizen.
Rumors have spread that Ahn chose Russian citizenship due to factionalism within Korea's speed skating community, so even as his Olympic victory drew applause, some fans were critical of the Korean speed skating federation on the Internet. President Park Geun-hye said last week that we need to look at what drove Ahn to seek foreign citizenship. She pointed out the need to check whether it was "impropriety or systemic problems" that prompted Ahn to make his decision.
In response, Ahn said it would "take too long" to explain things at this point and promised to speak on the matter "after the Olympics." But the athlete did stress that his decision was based on his previous "surroundings" in Korea.
"I needed the proper environment to do the sport that I like," he said. "I suffered a major injury and my knee still hurts. But I did not want to give up skating because of my injury," he added. "I chose Russia in order to attain that environment… and forget whatever it is that happened in the past."
He explained that Russia offered the best conditions to develop his talent. He said he believed his gold medal "demonstrates that my decision was not wrong."
Meanwhile, Russians were euphoric about Ahn's gold medal. Russian media praised his achievement and hailed him as a "hero of Sochi." Russian President Vladimir Putin posted a photo of Ahn waving the Russian flag on his Facebook page, which media there said shows Ahn is a true Russian and hero.