February 24, 2014 11:12
Short track skater Viktor Ahn has broken his long silence about deciding to swap his Korean passport for a Russian one.
Ahn, who switched citizenship in 2011, partly blamed factionalism in the Korean ice skating establishment for his decision. But he added that was not the decisive reason.
He picked up three gold medals at the 2006 Olympics in Turin but later became embroiled in an ugly controversy involving factional divisions within the Korean short track skating community. That was followed by injuries in his knee, which prevented him from joining the Korean national squad for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and dissolution of his home team. He then chose Russia as an environment where he could dedicate himself to the sport.
Ahn, who won three gold medals and a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics, will get W516 million (US$1=W1,072) from the Russian Federation and Moscow, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev told the sports minister to give Ahn a home in Moscow.
Ahn's jettisoning of his Korean passport raised some eyebrows, prompting President Park Geun-hye to call for reflection about what may have driven him away. She said the question is whether it was "impropriety or systemic problems."
"I only came here to continue playing the sport I love. I wanted to find an environment where I could train with full support," Ahn told reporters. "I don't want any controversy in Korea because of me."
Russian speed skating federation chief Aleksei Kravtsov recalled that he received a letter in his mailbox in March 2011. It was in English and from Viktor's uncle, who is also his agent, saying Viktor wanted to train in Russia. "So invited them to Moscow and that is how it started."
Kravtsov said Ahn was the first to raise the idea of switching to Russian citizenship. He added the hope that Ahn will eventually coach the Russian national team.
Ahn expressed delight at winning the gold medals for Russia. "But my goal was to compete in another Olympics so I took the decision and have no regrets." He also thanked his new country for recognizing and believing in him.
Meanwhile, Ahn said a woman who was photographed with him at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is his wife. They have not held a formal ceremony but are legally married, he added.
Professionally, the skater said he will compete in the speed skating World Championships in Montreal, Canada next month and in the 2015 World Championships in Moscow.
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