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The winner of three golds at Turin 2006, where he competed as Ahn Hyun-Soo for the Republic of Korea, Russia’s Victor An added another three Olympic titles to his personal collection at Sochi 2014, where he became the first short track speed skater in the history of the Games to win at every distance
A gifted pupil of triple Olympic short track champion Kim Ki-Hoon, the Seoul-born Ahn Hyun-Soo made his Games debut at Salt Lake City 2002, where he was involved in an infamous crash that left Australia’s Steve Bradbury as the last man standing in the 1,000m final and the winner of an unlikely gold. As well as claiming four overall and 1,500m World Championship titles in a row between 2003 and 2006, Ahn excelled himself at 1,000m and 3,000m during that period and also starred with the Republic of Korea’s 5,000m relay team. In all, he won a total of 23 medals in that prolific spell, and took the 2004 and 2006 World Cup titles for good measure.
Ahn underlined his dominance of the sport by landing four medals at Turin 2006, collecting gold in the 1,000m, the 1,500m and the 5,000m relay with Lee Ho-Suk, Seo Ho-Jin and Song Suk-Woo. His tactic of sitting tight in the bunch before surging past his rivals on the inside or outside in the final laps worked perfectly for him in all three events. Though he had to settle for bronze in the 500m, he was the only athlete in Turin to step on to the podium four times.
The all around world champion for a fifth consecutive time in Milan in 2007, Ahn suffered a knee injury at the start of the following year and had not fully recovered by the time the national qualifiers for Vancouver 2010 came around. Unable to defend his titles in Canada and locked in dispute with his country’s federation, Ahn subsequently decided to switch his allegiance to Russia, changing his name to Victor An in 2011.
His first medal for his new country came in the opening event at Sochi 2014, the 1500m, where he took bronze behind Canada’s Charles Hamelin. “It wasn’t easy,” said a delighted An afterwards. “I’m just happy to be competing in the Games again. Trying to win a medal was a very heavy burden for me, and this will help me concentrate on the events to come.”
Help him it did. In the 1,000m final, he led for the entire race with team-mate Valdimir Grigoriev before moving out front on the final corner to head a Russian one-two, much to the delight of the home fans. The 500m final a few days later proved another opportunity for An to show his finishing power. Recovering from a poor start, he darted inside China’s Wu Daijing on the final lap to make it Olympic gold number five, with a sixth following shortly afterwards when he linked up with Semen Elistratov, Vladimir Grigoriev and Ruslan Zakharov to win the 5,000m relay.
Victorious at all four distances in his two appearances at the Games, An has pulled level with the USA’s Apolo Anton Ohno as his sport’s most prolific Olympic medallist, but has more golds than the American. It remains to be seen if he will attempt to add to that collection at PyeongChang 2018, but the insatiable speed merchant has already decided where his future lies: as the coach of his adopted country’s short track team.