Short track speed skating at the Sochi Olympics will be a far different competition than four years ago.
It will be missing the most decorated men’s Olympic skater of all time with the retirement of Apolo Ohno and likely to be without the most decorated woman, China’s Wang Meng, following Thursday’s news.
Ohno will cover short track for NBC Olympics in Sochi and spoke with NBC Olympics’ Willie Cornblatt about the international threats for medals in Sochi.
Ohno has particular knowledge of Russian star Viktor Ahn, the former Ahn Hyun-Soo of South Korea. Ahn won triple gold for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics, missing a sweep by losing to Ohno in the 500m, was injured and didn’t make the 2010 team and switched affiliation to Russia for Sochi.
Here’s what Ohno had to say about Ahn:
So Ahn and I have been skating with each other since 2002, we went all the way through until he actually got injured pre-Vancouver, and he probably would’ve been on that team. In my eyes, Viktor Ahn, as he’s now called, is the most beautiful short track skating athlete in the world in terms of his technique and the way he skates. He’s so good in fact– we have a 3000m in World Cups, we don’t have that race in the Olympic level, so it’s a 27 lap race, it’s very slow in the beginning. I used to follow this kid just to watch him skate. Think about this, I’m trying to beat this kid, I’m watching him skate thinking, ‘this kid skates amazing.’ I always said in my head that if he ever figures out how to beat me and my weaknesses, it’s going to be very hard to get that back from him, and we traded back and forth multiple times.
As far as a redemption story, I think it’s phenomenal. The kid went through a lot in terms of injury, through his own federation, and he made a huge gamble going to Russia and competing for an alternate country. For me, personally, I would never consider that, but I do appreciate where he’s coming from, it shows his passion and love for what he’s doing in the sport. He may not be as good as he used to be, he may not have the same technique as he used to have, but what I like now about Viktor Ahn is he’s skating for himself, he’s not being pushed or pressured by the coaches, he’s skating because he really, really wants to win and he really loves the sport, and that, to me, shows the epitome of why athletes are so cool.