Ex-South Korean Skater Viktor Ahn Wins Two Medals at Sochi for Russia


Image by Flickr User @CanadianPhotographer (CC BY SA 2.0)

Short-track speed-skating star Viktor Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-soo, has brought his adopted home Russia two medals, one gold and one bronze in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

With his winning streak likely to continue, South Korean online forums were overrun with discussions about what had driven this skating genius from his birth-country and the Korean media's sudden focus on Ahn ‘being a Korean’. Criticisms mounted on the deep-rooted clique culture that perpetuates the Korean skating world and Korean society in general. 

Ahn made headlines on the international level in the 2002 Olympics with his unfortunate crash into the eight-time medalist skater Ohno. Four years later, Ahn surged back as Ohno's formidable rival by grabbing three gold medals and a bronze.

However, Ahn failed to compete in the following Olympics in 2010. The official reason given was that it was due to his knee injury, but it was an open secret to net users that Ahn had a fallout with the Korea Skating Union and was severely bullied [ko] well before the 2006 Olympics. By 2010 Ahn had been de-facto abandoned and was cast out by the union. He left his country and became a naturalized Russian in 2011.

For playing for the Russian team, Ahn has reportedly been rewarded [ko] with a much higher salary, a private tutor, coaching staff and he has also been promised a stable job after his retirement.  

Too late too little

As Ahn won a bronze medal earlier this week, Korean media outlets suddenly gained interest to the unfair treatment he suffered, several years earlier. Even the President made a comment about Ahn that ‘we have to look back on whether it (referring to Ahn switching his nationality) is because of irregularities lying in the sports world, such as factionalism, favoritism and judging corruption’. 

Politicians chimed in as well. The ruling Saenuri party posted  an emotional photo with accompanying text [ko]  on their Facebook page that read ‘sorry, but we will always support you’. Net users were not very impressed with this belated response.

Many Koreans were rather happy for this under-appreciated star's newly-found happiness and seemed unmoved, even offended by the Korean media sudden emphasis on his nationality. Here are several tweets about Ahn. 

If he had been given full support and provisions from the state, then you can trash-talk Ahn Hyun-soo and claim that he betrayed his country and left us for Russia. But no, that is not the case. There was no adequate support for him, instead perpetual fights between cliques, and he was brutally beaten (for not obeying the union's order) and their was not a conducive environment for practice. There is no justification for trash-talking Ahn.

I was told that Ahn said that he loves skating, and he is not sure whether he loves it more than he loves his country. One thing for sure is that he wants to continue skating and that he will live in Russia forever. This shows how our country has driven geniuses out instead of embracing their talents. Viktor Ahn, you take that gold medal. We don't deserve you/the medal.

(1st tweet embedded) He became a Russian citizen and even changed his name. But the media insists on calling him Ahn Hyun-soo. (2nd tweet) This player, could not take any more of the clique culture and the power-wielding, so he changed his nationality. But when he wins gold medals, some media outlets pull those ridiculous lines, like ‘His nationality may be Russia(n), but his heart beats for Korea’. LOL.

After hearing that there are groups of people who try hard to portray Viktor Ahn as ‘Ahn Hyun-soo who so loves his country, South Korea’, I wasn't that surprised. When someone achieves success, they do so desperately try to link that success to the nationality. When it seems like a failure, they try to distance from them. (i.e. against some Korean-Chinese)

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