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Russia pin hope on SKorean-born Ahn Sochi Oly ‘new big goal’

MOSCOW, Jan 30, (RTRS) South Korean-born Ahn Hyun-soo’s defection to the Russian team will not only stir up raw emotions at the Sochi Games but it could also allow the hosts to capture their first ever Olympic medal in short track skating.
South Korea and China have come to dominate the sport popularised by North American skaters after its debut at the Albertville Games in 1992.
But the 28-year-old, who won four Olympic medals at the 2006 Turin Games, took on Russian citizenship two years ago and became Viktor Ahn when he fell out with the South Korean federation over failing to win a spot for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

“It was difficult to train in (South) Korea,” Ahn, who has come back from injuries to be ranked among the top four in all three distances, told Reuters.
“For the 2010 Olympic Games, I missed this great competition. That’s why the Sochi Olympics have become my new big goal, which I have been pursuing for all these years.”
The absence of some of short track’s biggest names in Sochi has also shaken up the field.
Apolo Anton Ohno, the most decorated US Winter Olympian, retired last year, while China’s four-times Olympic champion Wang Meng will not feature in the women’s events as she is off the ice with an ankle injury.

Their absence will allow a new generation of skaters to make a name for themselves in one of the most dangerous and unpredictable sports at the Games in which skaters jockey for the lead while hurtling at top speeds around an icy track.
Crashes are frequent as skaters attempt hair-raising passes at speeds of around 50kph on razor-thin blades, and the first across the finish line can be disqualified if judged to have impeded a competitor during the race.
South Korea’s short track team is weakened by the loss of 1,500m record holder Noh Jin-kyu but they can still count on Lee Han-bin as a favourite to win in the distance.
Unlike speed skating, short track racers battle each other instead of a clock, going head-to-head for three golds in individual distances: a 500m all-out sprint, a 1,000m race where strategy is key and a 1,500 stamina-demanding haul.
Ahn’s main challengers are China’s Wu Dajing and Canada’s Charles Hamelin, who is ranked in the world’s top three in all three individual events

For Hamelin racing is a family affair. His father is a Canada team coach and he will be competing alongside his brother Francois and girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, who won silver in Vancouver in the 500m and has seven world championship medals.
The image of the Olympic couple leaping over the barrier to hug and share a kiss following Hamelin’s 500m gold medal triumph in Vancouver has become a YouTube hit.
Now St-Gelais is one of the front-runners for the sprint title along with Italy’s Arianna Fontana following the withdrawal of Wang, who won the 500m in 2006 and 2010.
South Korea and China are the powerhouses of the women’s distances and will battle it out for gold in 3000m relay.

South Korean teenage prodigies Shim Suk-hee, the overall world champion in the last two seasons, and Kim Alang are at the cusp of a career that promises medals not only in Sochi but at future Games.
Despite Wang’s injury, China’s next-best woman Fan Kexin is a strong contender for the 500m and the team can count on veteran Olympian Zhou Yang.
Following Ohno’s retirement, J.R. Celski has emerged as the face of the embattled American team. The 23-year-old won two bronzes in Vancouver and will be expected to lead the US team’s challenge for a medal in the 5,000m men’s relay.
The US women did not qualify for the relay in Sochi after suffering the loss of Vancouver medallist Katherine Reutter, whose career was cut short by injury. Ohno and Reutter had led the US team to grab six medals in the 2010 Games.
Since their departure the national team has been further depleted by a scandal. Vancouver relay bronze medallist Simon Cho was suspended last year after admitting to tampering with a rival’s skates while head coach Jae Sun Chun was forced to resign over allegations of abuse by a dozen team members.

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