Viktor Ahn

Viktor Ahn
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Viktor Ahn writes letter to IOC, asks why he can’t go to Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Six-time Olympic gold medalist Viktor Ahn wants to know why he has been barred from the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Ahn is a short-track speed skater who was born in South Korea but switched allegiance to Russia ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

Russian officials said the International Olympic Committee refused to grant Ahn an invitation amid its vetting of the country’s athletes for possible doping links.

“It is outrageous that there is no concrete reason which explains my exclusion from the Olympics, and furthermore people now view me as an athlete who used doping,” Ahn wrote in an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach.

Competing in South Korea would have been “an especially significant part of my career for several reasons,” said Ahn, who won his first three 2006 Olympic titles while competing for his native country. “I hope that the IOC will ultimately declare their reason for my exclusion, so I will be able to defend my honor and dignity.”

Ahn’s letter was published Friday by the Russian Skating Union.

Asked about the letter, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Russia would support all athletes, whether they take part in the Olympics or are barred.

“Intensive contacts are under way with the International Olympic Committee to clarify the situation and so that the interests of our athletes who are able to take part in the Olympics are completely secured and respected,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“There are athletes who are disputing their rights in a legal context. There are athletes who are appealing to public opinion. There are athletes who are appealing to the Olympic committee leadership. That is their right.”

The IOC hasn’t confirmed which Russians will be invited to compete in PyeongChang and hasn’t explained any individual decisions.

However, it said newly obtained records from the Moscow anti-doping laboratory played a role in the decision-making.

Russia announced an Olympic team of 169 athletes on Thursday.

The list didn’t contain Ahn or some other Russian medal contenders, including cross-country skiing world champion Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin.

The IOC refusals for some are separate from the doping bans for 43 Russian athletes because of what the Olympic body ruled was a doping program and cover-up at the Sochi Games.

Of those, 42 launched appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is due to rule next week.

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The full letter:

Dear Mr. President Thomas Bach,

Back in 2002, I got my first opportunity to participate in Olympic Games. The present ones in Korea were supposed to become an especially significant part of my career for several reasons. Two weeks before the start of the Olympics I found out that the Olympic movement does not consider me an athlete, who deserves to be a part of it without even providing an explanation.

During my entire career journey in short track, I’ve never given a reason to doubt my honesty and my integrity, especially when it comes to my victories which I achieved with nothing but my strength and dedication. I have always maintained respect to  the sport itself, my rivals, the Olympic movement, and I’ve always complied with the anti-doping legislation. I honestly thought that properly completing all the steps to meet the criteria to be a part of the Olympic Games, a “clean” athlete deserves a right to compete there. However, the IOC commission has decided otherwise and didn’t provide me with reasons why so.

I thoroughly went over the criteria which commission utilized when they made this decision. I can honestly declare that I haven’t done anything that would justify putting me on the list of athletes barred from participating in the Olympic Games.

It is outrageous that there is no concrete reason which explains my exclusion from the Olympics, and furthermore people now view me as an athlete who used doping. After all these years in sports, this verdict of preventing me to be in Olympics has become a symbol of mistrust to me from the side of IOC as well as the reason of mistrust from the side of the entire sport community.

I hope that the IOC will ultimately declare their reason for my exclusion, so I will be able to defend my honor and dignity. I have a full right to believe and hope that I have the trust of my supporters, as well as journalists, after my long journey in short-track and with absolute absence of my fault in this situation, when I’m deprived an opportunity to participate in the Olympics.

Sincerely,
Victor Ahn

Russian Olympic, world champion athletes barred from PyeongChang

Viktor Ahn
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Several of Russia’s top medal hopes for the PyeongChang Olympics, including six-time short track speed skating gold medalist Viktor Ahn, have been barred from the Games amid the country’s ongoing doping scandal, sparking renewed talk of a boycott.

Already depleted by doping bans and forced to compete under a neutral flag, Russia now faces an Olympics without some of its top skiers, figure skaters and sliders after they failed to pass International Olympic Committee vetting.

The exclusions have stirred renewed talk of a boycott, something athletes and officials ruled out last month when the IOC formally banned the Russian team, instead allowing “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag.

“There was an attempt to take the Russian athletes’ flag, anthem, to push Russia toward a boycott … And now this is the second attempt, tyranny, an attempt to drive a wedge between athletes who had managed to keep their good name,” Mikhail Degtyarev, chairman of the Russian parliament’s sports committee, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“I’m not personally a supporter of a boycott. I consider it counterproductive, but we need to defend our honor.”

The Russian Figure Skating Federation also said the IOC was trying to provoke Russia into a boycott.

The federation said it was “deeply disappointed in this baseless IOC decision which is reminiscent of a provocation with the aim of forcing Russian athletes by any means possible to decline to participate in the games.”

However, officials from Russia’s luge and curling federations spoke out against a possible boycott.

Besides Ahn, the Russian Olympic Committee said Tuesday that cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin had been left out of an IOC pool of eligible athletes.

Other officials said that two-time figure skating medalist Ksenia Stolbova and several other speedskaters were excluded.

ROC senior vice president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement that he discovered the absences during negotiations with IOC officials on Monday and has asked the Olympic body to explain why they were not included.

Pozdnyakov said Ahn, Ustyugov and Shipulin “have never been involved in any doping cases and all of the many samples they have given during their careers testify that they are clean athletes. Regardless, their names are currently missing from the list of potential participants in the games.”

The IOC said it would not comment on individual cases, and has not spelled out the criteria used to refuse invitations to the athletes named Tuesday in Russia.

Ahn, a short-track speedskater, won three gold medals for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics as Ahn Hyun-soo before switching allegiance to Russia in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, where he won three more.

The Russian Figure Skating Federation said in a statement that Stolbova, who won team gold and pairs silver in 2014, was excluded, as well as ice dancer Ivan Bukin, the son of 1988 Olympic gold medalist Andrei Bukin.

The head of the Russian Skating Union, Alexei Kravtsov, told the RIA Novosti state news agency that numerous other speedskaters had been barred.

They include world champions Pavel Kulizhnikov and Denis Yuskov, both of whom have previously served bans for failed doping tests, as well as Ruslan Zakharov, who won an Olympic short track relay gold medal in Sochi,

Five hockey players have also been barred, including former NHL players Sergei Plotnikov, Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov.

The Russian Hockey Federation submitted a list of more than 40 players it wished to choose from for its 25-man Olympic team. The federation named most of its superstars in the KHL — like Ilya KovalchukPavel Datsyuk and Slava Voynov — but left off three-time Olympian defenseman Andrei Markov.

Russian news agencies reported that the IOC still considers all members of the Russian Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and curling teams to be eligible.

As punishment for what it termed a sophisticated doping program at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the IOC has forced all Russians competing in PyeongChang to do so as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag, rather than as an official Russian team.

Russian athletes must be vetted by an IOC commission, which will examine their history of drug testing and links to past doping, before they are invited to the games.

On Friday, the IOC said it had cut an initial list of 500 Russian athletes down to a pool of 389, but didn’t give any names. Russian officials have expressed hope they could field a team of 200 athletes. That’s below the number that competed for Russia in 2014, but above its total from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow is waiting for the IOC to clarify the situation.

“We have seen those deplorable reports in the media,” Peskov said. “We deeply regret if such decisions have indeed been taken. But we hope the situation will clear up because we do have contacts with the IOC. We hope those contacts will help clarify the situation around the aforementioned prominent athletes.”

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MORE: IOC creates pool of Russians eligible for PyeongChang Olympics

Viktor Ahn (Short Track Speed Skating)
Eight Olympic medals
Six Olympic gold medals
Most decorated male athlete at Sochi Olympics (three golds, one bronze)

Anton Shipulin (Biathlon)
Top four in World Cup standings each of the last four seasons

Sergei Ustyugov (Cross-Country Skiing)
Five medals at 2017 World Championships
Second in 2016-17 World Cup overall standings
2017 Tour de Ski champion

Ksenia Stolbova (Figure Skating)
2014 Olympic, World silver medalist

Pavel Kulizhnikov (Speed Skating)
2016 World champion, 500m and 1000m

Denis Yuskov (Speed Skating)
2017-18 World Cup leader, 1500m
2016 World champion, 1500m

Viktor Ahn prepared for boos at PyeongChang Olympics

Viktor Ahn
AP
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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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