Viktor Ahn

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

Takeaways from World Short Track Speed Skating Championships

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Three thoughts off the weekend’s World Short Track Speed Skating Championships …

1. Elise Christie is one of the great athlete stories for PyeongChang

The Briton won the 1000m and 1500m and finished third in the 3000m last weekend to become the first European woman to bag the world overall title. It marked the peak of a decade-long ascent for the two-time Olympian who was a figure skater until age 15.

Christie had a nightmare Sochi Olympics. She was disqualified from the 500m final (colliding with another skater), disqualified from the 1000m semifinals (colliding with another skater) and disqualified from the 1500m opening round (finishing too far inside).

Christie was cyberbullied as well, reportedly by South Korean accounts upset that her collision in the 500m final wiped out Park Seung-Hi‘s shot at gold. Christie’s Twitter account was temporarily deactivated.

“It took me about two years to get over what happened in Sochi, not just the outcome but also the repercussions after what people had said,” Christie said on the BBC on Tuesday. “I lost a lot of self-confidence as a person, outside of sport, but obviously I’ve learned to live with who I am now.”

She rebounded at the world championships, winning one medal in March 2014, then two in 2015 and three in 2016, plus the overall bronze.

Christie won multiple races at World Cup stops in Shanghai and the 2018 Olympic venue of Gangneung, South Korea, in December (saying she was received warmly by South Koreans in Gangneung). But she suffered a concussion in January, knocking her out of February’s World Cups.

Christie said she lost vision in her left eye with numbness all down the left side of her face. She experienced headaches and wasn’t able to sleep properly.

Yet in Rotterdam, Christie was superb. In the 1000m in particular, passing two South Koreans with two laps left in her semifinal and then making passes on three of the last four laps to win the final.

“World champion overall has always been my dream goal,” Christie told the BBC. “The Olympic goal is obviously a dream, but this is more because you have to be consistent. You have to get everything right again and again and again.”

An Olympic gold in PyeongChang “would make everything from Sochi just disappear,” she said.

2. South Korean men rise up, women suffer misfortune

Of South Korea’s 53 Winter Olympic medals, 42 have come in short track speed skating. South Koreans have won twice as many Olympic short track golds than any other country.

So the world championships, one year before South Korea hosts its first Winter Olympics, were huge.

The South Korean men came through, unlike the Sochi Winter Games, where they went medal-less for the second time in Olympic history.

Seo Yi-Ra won South Korea’s first overall world title in four years, ending its longest stretch between men’s overall titles since the Koreans came to prominence 25 years ago. Sin Da-Woon, part of that desultory effort in Sochi, added the 1500m gold. South Korea earned at least one medal in all four individual men’s races in Rotterdam.

The South Korean women were not successful. Stunning considering Shim Suk-Hee and Choi Min-Jeong combined to win the last three overall world titles. Shim, a triple 2014 Olympic medalist who changed the last four digits of her phone number to 2018, salvaged the team’s effort by winning the final individual race, the 3000m, in Rotterdam.

Choi, 18, was bidding for her third straight overall title but came home with no medals. It was largely as a result of bad luck. She crashed in the 1500m final and the 500m semis, with other skaters at least partially to blame. In the 1000m, Choi was passed for the lead by Christie on the final lap and appeared to have silver wrapped up, but was disqualified.

The South Koreans can take solace in the fact that Russian Viktor Ahn, the former South Korean Ahn Hyun-Soo, struggled in Rotterdam. Ahn, who was .077 away from sweeping the Sochi Olympic golds, earned just one medal over the weekend, a bronze in the 3000m. Ahn was not a factor in the 1500m and 500m finals and was eliminated in the 1000m quarterfinals after taking last season off.

3. U.S. struggles

Only one U.S. skater qualified for a final — three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, who was eighth in the 1500m. The U.S. went medal-less at a third straight worlds, its longest drought in at least 20 years. This comes after the U.S. earned no individual medals at the Olympics for the second time in the sport’s short Olympic history (since 1992).

The U.S. program has descended since Apolo Ohno‘s last Olympics in 2010. Its headlines since have centered on skate-tampering and coaching-abuse scandals.

But there is a bit of a silver lining heading into the Olympic season.

Celski, the biggest U.S. star, could still be finding his form after significant knee and hip injuries. Katherine Reutter, a 2010 Olympic medalist and 2011 World champion, showed promising signs making World Cup finals this season after a three-year retirement. But Reutter missed worlds after a concussion earlier in the winter.

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MORE: One year out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

Viktor Ahn eyes retirement after Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics

Viktor Ahn
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Russian short track speed skater Viktor Ahn plans to retire after the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics in his birth nation, he said Friday, according to South Korean media.

Ahn, 30, was the most decorated male athlete at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, winning three gold medals and one bronze. He also won three golds and one bronze for South Korea at Torino 2006 before switching to Russia.

“I wanted to retire after the Sochi Winter Olympics, but I decided to extend my career a bit longer after speaking with the head of the Russian skating federation,” Ahn said, according to the Korea Herald. “I am training hard with an eye on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. I want to pour my last ounce of energy into Pyeongchang.”

Ahn took this past World Cup season off, dealing with knee problems.

“Doctors have told me undergoing surgery would jeopardize my career,” he said, according to the Korea Herald. “So I think I will have to skate through pain until I retire. I am trying to add muscle to relieve the pain.”

If Ahn competes at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics against skaters from his birth country, he would be one of the most scrutinized athletes, perhaps the most scrutinized.

NBC Olympic short track analyst Apolo Ohno said in 2014 that Ahn would be warmly received in Pyeongchang.

Ahn is two gold medals shy of the career record for a Winter Olympian shared by Norwegians biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie.

MORE: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen undecided on retirement