Exclusive: More South Koreans set to follow Ahn abroad, says dad

Thu Mar 20, 2014 8:00am EDT
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By Peter Rutherford and Narae Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - More Olympic athletes are set to ditch their South Korean passports and compete for rival nations unless the country's skating union (KSU) reforms, the father of Korea's greatest sporting defector has told Reuters.

Anger with the KSU has boiled among Koreans following Ahn Hyun-soo's defection to Russia in 2011 - and was only exacerbated when the 28-year-old won his fourth, fifth and sixth Olympic gold medals in Sochi under the name Viktor Ahn, and as a Russian competitor.

It was a painful episode for a proud country. Ahn had won his first three golds as a South Korean at the Turin Olympics in 2006, but then came quarrels and clashes, failure to qualify for the 2010 Games and the decision to quit Korea and become a Russian citizen.

It was a huge step, but one others may soon take, Ahn's father told Reuters, claiming that more are ready to follow his son out the door and into the arms of other nation's unless the Seoul-based skating union sorts itself out.

"I assure you, and I am saying this with confidence, there are some parents whose children won medals at the Olympics and who have told me if the KSU keeps going like this, they are also considering switching nationalities," Ahn Ki-won told Reuters.

Speaking at his local rink he said he would not allow his youngest son, Hyun-jun, another promising young short track speed skater with Olympic ambitions, to go through the same torment as his older brother, who he still refers to as "Hyun-soo" rather than "Viktor".

"If the KSU refuses to reform and goes on the way it has, I'm considering switching my youngest son's nationality to give him a better opportunity.

"I'm not doing all this for Hyun-soo, I'm doing this for Hyun-jun. I'm doing this for the next generation of South Korean skaters."   Continued...

South Korea's Ahn Hyun-Soo poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 1500 metres event of the ISU World Cup Short Track in Kobe, western Japan, October 27, 2007. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao