Korean-born Viktor Ahn of Russia holds out the gold medal after winning the 1,000m short track speed skating in Sochi on Saturday. (Yonhap)
With his first Olympic gold medal for his adopted Russia around his neck, Viktor Ahn, the short track star born as Ahn Hyun-soo in South Korea, said he made "the right choice" in switching allegiances.
Ahn captured the men's 1,000m gold medal on Saturday at Iceberg Skating Palace. It was Russia's first Olympic gold in short track. Earlier, Ahn had won the bronze in the 1,500m.
The 1,000m title was Ahn's fourth career gold medal, making him the most decorated male short tracker in Olympic history.
"I didn't want to give up short track because of my injury (from 2008), and I came to Russia to compete in the best environment I could find," he said. "And (the gold medal) is significant because it proves that I made the right choice."
The 28-year-old won three gold medals for his native South Korea at the 2006 Winter Games but missed the 2010 Olympics after coming up short in the national team trials while nursing a knee injury. He then became a Russian citizen in late 2011 under controversial circumstances.
Ahn's family claimed that the skater had been a victim of factional feuds within South Korean short track and that he was not given a fair chance to try to come back from his ailment and make the national team again.
After Ahn won the bronze, the circumstances surrounding his defection came back into national spotlight in South Korea, to a point where President Park Geun-hye ordered sports officials to investigate whether corruption had played a role in Ahn's decision to leave.
Celebrating his 1,000m victory, Ahn went down on his knees and cried as he kissed the ice. He said tough memories of the past eight years came flooding back to him.
"After the first medal (bronze in 1,500m), I fought back tears really hard because I wanted to wait until I won a gold medal," he said. "I've been waiting for this moment for eight years. I've gone through so much and this was the ultimate reward. I can't describe my feelings in words."
When asked if he'd single-handedly made Russia a short track power, Ahn said his teammates are also good skaters in their own right.
"When I first arrived, I felt they were already better than I'd expected," he said. "I think we all improved by helping each other in training."
Ahn said he has one last goal remaining in Sochi.
"My teammates helped me so much when I was going through tough times," he said. "I hope to win a medal in relay so everyone can celebrate."
After the race, Ahn embraced South Korea's Sin Da-woon, who was penalized for impeding another skater. Ahn stressed he remains on good terms with South Koreans racing in Sochi.
"We're battling each other on the ice but we don't resent or hate each other," Ahn said. "I gave him a hug for the job well done. I am sorry that young skaters (on the Korean team) have to deal with this sort of distraction. I hope we can all have a good Olympics." (Yonhap News)