Ahn seeks short track gold for adopted Russia

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 11, 2014 at 6:33 pm •  Published: February 11, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — New name, new country, nearly the same old Viktor Ahn.

The 28-year-old short track speedskater reached the podium in his return to the Olympics, giving his adopted country of Russia its first medal in the capricious sport.

The bronze Ahn won in the 1,500 meters on the first day of short track competition Monday was his fifth Olympic medal, and first since the 2006 Turin Games. A career-threatening knee injury in 2008 forced him to miss Vancouver four years ago.

"I had to think a lot of things over, then I was injured," he said through a translator. "It was my great pleasure to get back to the sport."

Born in Seoul, Ahn previously competed for South Korea as Ahn Hyun-soo, winning three golds and a bronze at his first two Olympics.

"It's fun to see him back," 1,500 champion Charles Hamelin of Canada said. "He was the one I looked at in 2006 and 2007. All the races I do with him are difficult and to be able to win the 1,500 was the best."

The red-haired Ahn got the loudest cheers from the mostly Russian fans at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

"It played a big role in my achievement," he said. "I would like to thank everyone for believing in me."

Ahn stayed back in the pack in the 1,500 before making his move toward the front in the closing laps.

"The bronze medal he got is just a small step towards a gold medal," Russian coach Andrey Maximov said. "We have 500, 1,000 and the relay, and I hope he will manage to show what he's capable of. The technique and the psychological state that he showed in the 1,500 was just amazing."

Switching names and countries created challenges for Ahn, including overcoming the language barrier with his teammates.

"My Russian is not so good so I can't easily communicate with them," he said. "I believe the relationship (with the team) has changed a lot since I came."