Russia

Viktor Ahn
AP

Viktor Ahn prepared for boos at PyeongChang Olympics

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The most decorated South Korean-born Olympian is ready for the very real possibility that he gets booed while competing at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Short track speed skater Viktor Ahn won his first four Olympic medals for South Korea in 2006 as Ahn-Hyun Soo.

His next four came for Russia in 2014, after Ahn’s falling out with South Korea’s short track powers and nationality switch.

Now, the 31-year-old Ahn is preparing for what should be his last Olympics.

He has competed as a Russian in World Cups in South Korea in 2013 and 2016, but PyeongChang will of course be on another level.

“I think the crowd’s reaction may bother me, but I won’t think about that now,” Ahn said while at a Russian training camp in South Korea on Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “It’s something I have to deal with, and I braced myself for this ever since I first got my Russian passport. Not everyone will think of me the same way.”

It might be logical to believe Ahn would get booed while competing in his birth country for a different nation.

But NBC Olympic analyst Apolo Ohno, a former rival of Ahn’s, has said the South Korean public was more upset with the country’s short track officials than Ahn for his leaving. While Ahn won three golds in Sochi, no South Korean man made the top five of any race for the first time in Olympic history.

“He’ll be an absolute superstar [in PyeongChang],” Ohno said in November 2014. “I think they’ll get over [that he competes for Russia]. He’s an anomaly.”

Ahn, who was .077 away from sweeping all four Sochi Olympic golds, earned just one medal at this past season’s world championships, a bronze, after taking the 2015-16 season off.

“Throughout my career, I’ve competed under a lot of pressure,” Ahn said Monday, according to Yonhap. “At the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, I want to have fun skating, rather than worry about results.”

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MORE: Apolo Ohno on Ahn’s Olympic outlook

Russian hockey star stays in KHL, cites Olympics as key

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Ilya Kovalchuk, a four-time Russian Olympian, chose to stay in the KHL rather than explore an NHL return in 2017-18 due largely to the NHL not participating in the PyeongChang Olympics.

“One of the main factors was the upcoming Olympic Games,” Kovalchuk said, according to his KHL team’s website. “In 2018, only players who play in European championships and the KHL can compete there.”

Kovalchuk, 34, shares the Russian men’s record of four Olympic hockey appearances with Sergei Gonchar and Pavel Datsyuk. He has been playing in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg since 2012, winning two of the last three Gagarin Cups and ranking second in the league in points last season.

Gonchar is retired. Datsyuk, who is four years older than Kovalchuk, also plays for SKA St. Petersburg and is eligible for the Olympics.

Kovalchuk is the youngest Russian or Soviet Olympic men’s hockey player ever, when he suited up at age 18 in 2002.

In 2018, Datsyuk will be older than all but two previous Russian Olympic men’s hockey players, Igor Larionov in 2002 and Sergei Fedorov in 2010.

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MORE: Russia hopes for boost from Olympic hockey turmoil

10 visually impaired Russian athletes banned for doping

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MOSCOW (AP) — Ten visually impaired Russian athletes in powerlifting have been banned for doping in a case linked to claims that some of them may have been doped without their knowledge.

The 10 athletes made up almost the entire national team. Nine of them were medalists at the 2015 World Championships for blind and visually impaired powerlifters, and only three of the 13-strong Russian team from that competition remain eligible to compete.

The Russian anti-doping agency said in a statement Thursday that eight athletes were banned for four years, with two earning eight-year bans. It didn’t give further details of their offenses.

The agency says the sanctions were backdated to May 2015, the time of the championships, meaning the athletes stand to lose their medals.

Documents released by a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation into Russian drug use show that in May 2015 the then-head of Moscow’s drug-testing laboratory complained that blind powerlifters were being exploited by unscrupulous coaches.

That followed a string of positive tests for steroids.

Calling the situation “a disgrace,” laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov wrote that coaches were “picking on the blind … they can’t even see what people are giving them.”

Those documents haven’t been independently verified by The Associated Press.

Russia’s entire team was barred from last year’s Paralympics after WADA investigations found evidence of widespread drug use and a cover-up.

The powerlifters who have been banned wouldn’t have been able to compete at the Paralympics, though, since Paralympic powerlifting is only open to athletes with impairments to their lower limbs or hips.

The International Blind Sports Federation and the International Paralympic Committee didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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MORE: Russian skiers stay suspended awaiting Olympic dopin cases