A Russian gold for the skater from South Korea soured my Sochi Games

My Olympic ideals took a hit from Viktor Ahn's short track speed racing golds. (From NBC on my flat screen)

My Olympic ideals took a hit from Viktor Ahn’s short track speed racing golds. (From NBC on my flat screen)

Goodbye, Sochi.

I can’t say that you ever completely won me over.

Goodbye, Viktor Ahn and your messy politics.

I can say that you have taught me that I am way too idealistic with my Olympic ideals.

These Games in the seaside-and-mountain city of Russia may forever be known as the Winter Olympics where spectators and athletes walked around wearing shorts. It was warm. The snow events suffered some.

I tried hard to allow myself to be enamored.

I liked the big smiles of ice dancing gold medal winners, Americans Charlie White and Meryl Davis.

I did not like that Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova tripped up in her free skate program and still took the gold medal over defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea, who was flawless in her program. The curious scoring made me long for the good, old days, when scoring was announced, on the PA, judge-by-judge. This lump-sum scoring is too anonymous.

I liked the big gold-medal runs of Americans Ted Liggerty and Mikaela Shiffrin in Alpine events.

I did not like both the U.S. women and men losing to Canada in the medal-round hockey games.

All that, however, falls into the category of victory or defeat on the fields, courts and rinks of sports. It’s to be expected at every Olympic Games.

So, really, a different little piece of my heart left these Games when I listened to the story of Viktor Ahn after he won his first of three gold medals (and four overall) in short track speed skating.

Ahn was a veteran of Olympic competition. But the last time he skated in the Games, 2006 in Turin, he was known as Ahn Hyun-Soo. Born in Seoul, he competed for his homeland, South Korea. He got hurt in 2008 and did not compete in the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Other skaters from other clubs looked like they’d bypassed him.

In 2011, he moved to Russia to train. Then he gave up his South Korean citizenship and became a Russian citizen. He changed his name, picking Viktor because it meant champion.

Russian fans cheered Ahn for winning for his country.

NBC coverage alluded to the fact that he picked Russia from a handful of countries that wanted him to skate for them because they offered him the sweetest deal and best chance for success.

Now I am not an expert in the politics of the move, nor all of the underlying facts.

I know that athletes have participated for countries other than those they were born in, but I’d been under the impression their ancestry somehow allowed them to become dual citizens.

A story in the Washington Post last week reiterated how several athletes compete for countries in which they were not born every Games these days.

But countries bidding for gold medal athletes makes me uneasy. An athlete giving up citizenship in his home country and swearing allegiance to another in the pursuit of Olympic gold, not to take a stance against political oppression, makes me extremely uneasy.

And it spoiled the Sochi Games for me some.

Did you enjoy these Winter Games? What did the case of Viktor Ahn make make you feel about the Olympic ideal?

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33 thoughts on “A Russian gold for the skater from South Korea soured my Sochi Games

  1. Oh I was not happy with the games at all…it is sad but true. I have a duel citizenship but because my Dad is cherokee (US of course) and my mom is German. I didn’t randomly pick a country by who offered me anything…well none were knocking on my door but you know what I am saying.

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    • I do know what you are saying, Anja. Those who have dual citizenships are welcome to compete for either country. But otherwise, the Olympics should not be about buying your athletes from other countries. Ever. Thanks for stopping in today.

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  2. I enjoyed much of the games but because of the stories of the athletes and their hard work to get where they are. I absolutely loved the female snow boarders who had to have felt disappointment when they had a bad fun or a fall, and without fail, all of the ones I saw literally shrugged it off, showing such charisma. Not letting the disappointment make them appear bitter. Whatever they felt deep, I loved their smiles and congratulations to one another.

    The two things that made me most uncomfortable were the very two you mentioned, the skating scoring and the skater turned Russian for the best deal. I don’t “know” enough to really have an opinion. But they did make me feel uncomfortable while I was hearing about it and watching.

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  3. The Victor Ahn case was a travesty to the Olympic spirit. Don’t think your county will give you a second shot…okay…I’ll just move to another country and become a citizen for no other reason than competing at the Olympics.. I noticed he wasn’t singing the Russian National Anthem last night….didn’t know the words or couldn’t speak the language…says it all!

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    • Why even have the Olympics if countries buy athletes? What, then, makes the Olympics any different than teams signing free agents in baseball, football, etc.? It’s easy to get going about this subject, isn’t it, DJ?

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  4. I’ve only watched intermittently, so I did not know of this story. But that is terrible. It’s not like the NFL, where you can be traded. Your nationality is your identity; it shouldn’t be subject to change unless your homeland has persecuted you and forced your immigration. We’ve all known Russian judges have been shady as long as we’ve been alive, so that’s nothing new. But it would be refreshing to have a fair Olympics, to have countries who supported their athletes as human beings and not as tokens to bring their country glory.

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  5. Reminds me of the tales my Dad used to tell me about the “tramp athlete” phenomenon in college football–back in the 30’s and 40’s: before pro football was an option. Players would play for several teams over the course of several years.

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  6. Didn’t they resolve the skating score issues after the controversy a few years ago with the pair from Canada losing to the Russians? I am one of the few who don’t care to watch ice skating that doesn’t involve a puck, so let me know if I have that confused with something outside of the Olympics.

    I just like the spirit of the games. While I want the USA to do well, I get sick of the coverage making it sound like the real competition is which country has the most medals. I mean, I get that to a degree, but I like to watch per event and sometimes the USA isn’t the best.

    As for countries bidding, I don’t like that idea at all/

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  7. I didn’t focus too much on the Olympics this year, but I did watch a lot of them. All the drama leading up to the celebration of of The Games turned me off a bit. Obama, who is on my **** list, really disrespected our country by not showing up to the opening ceremony. Both of our hockey losses were disappointing, but at least we gave our all.

    I agree with you about the figure skater and the skater with the arrogance issue is beyond me.

    The Games are supposed to bring the world together, not poke each country’s metaphorical bear.

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  8. i agree mark, it is disheartening to say the least. somehow, the original idea of the olympic games seems to have gotten lost over time. i liked it better when it was less of a crazy show of power and politics, and simply a contest of athletic feats. i do love the olympics in general though, so it was disappointing –

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    • I love the Olympics of my youth, Beth, but maybe I was less aware of the politics and more in tune with the games when I was young, too. I am convinced, like you, that it seemed to be more simply about the competition. Thanks for your insightful comment, my friend.

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  9. I’ll miss it a bit now it’s all over. The BBC coverage was really good and we didn’t have such a huge time difference. We aren’t really known for getting medals in the winter Olympics so our winter athletes are not made into ‘superstars’. I sort of think that the real spirit of taking part isn’t so lost because of that.
    Have to say though that in the four man bobsleigh I was cheering for the Latvians. I so wanted that little country to beat the might of Russia. As for Victor – well, he didn’t fool us, he looks like he doesn’t belong in Russia and I agree with you, you compete for the country you belong to, or all that national anthem stuff is meaningless. Wonder if he’ll compete in four years time – should be an interesting reception for him!

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    • Maybe he’ll show up for a third country, Rachel. I wouldn’t put it past him or another country.

      I’m glad you were able to enjoy the Olympics more purely in Great Britain, Rachel. It sounds like you really, really liked the experience this year. Bravo.

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  10. To be very truthful, I didn’t watch one second of the Olympics. I hated hearing what Russia did to the stray dogs and cats, trying to rid them of the city. And I do agree with you in being able to simply pick a country and obtain citizenship for an Olympic medal. Disheartening.

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  11. Having followed Ahn’s story for quite sometime, it’s not like he had a choice between Korea and other countries. He simply chose between other countries.

    The Korean Skating Union essentially kicked him to the curb, saying he was too old and they recommended he retire. They wanted to use his spot for younger skaters, given how deep the team is. He was at one point, completely ostracized from the men’s squad, even while he was winning World Cups in speed skating. For a period of time, he was coached by the women’s team coach due to the fallout, something that was well-publicized and documented in Korea.

    There are also reports of him being physically abused by the coaches that are currently under investigation in by the Korean government.

    I wouldn’t really blame him for leaving the KSU and Korea, given his experience. He simply wanted a chance to skate and perhaps win another Olympic medal.

    If you’re saying that you, in his shoes, would’ve stayed in Korea, taken the abuse, and retire when told you’re too old after the many skating titles you won for the country, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to call bullshit on that.

    Most of the Korean public still sympathizes with Ahn in the public polls. That’s why the KSU will be undergoing quite a few reevaluations over the next year or so.

    Now use your own common sense. Ahn won three gold medals. The South Korean men’s squad took home nothing. If that doesn’t tell you anything about the KSU and their “standards”, I don’t know what would.

    Please do your own research next time, before slandering people. There’s always a story behind these things. NBC provides only the American perspective. Sure, Russia did provide a better offer, but that wasn’t why he left Korea. It was simply why he chose Russia over the US.

    Ask some Koreans about the subject. They’ll gladly provide you with their own perspective on the events that occurred.

    Also, take a look at Vic Wild. He had a similar situation between himself and the USSA, where they essentially cut off the alpine snowboarding program. So he married his girlfriend, who was a Russian snowboarder, and joined the Russian squad.. He took home two gold medals.

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    • I appreciate you sharing your passion and research about this situation, Val. As I wrote in my post, I am not up on all of the politics that surrounded Viktor Ahn. My opinion is that athletes changing citizenship to align with a country that gives them the best offer is contrary to what I consider my Olympic ideals, no matter the athlete or countries involved. Thank you for commenting and raising my awareness.

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