When Victor An, a South Korean-born short-track speedskater, gained Russian citizenship in 2011 and defected from his homeland, the Russians gained a skater who won three gold medals and a bronze at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
If An could do anything close to that in 2014, at the Sochi Games right there in his adopted home, the Russians would be thrilled. After a very, very good Friday on the short track, it turns out An duplicated his 2006 output — three golds and a bronze, just with a little shake-up in the events.
On Friday, An won the 500 meters and then helped Russia win the 5,000 relay. He'd already won gold in the 1,000 last weekend and collected a bronze in the 1,500 earlier in the Games. In 2006, he helped win the relay, plus won the 1,000 and 1,500 solo, with his bronze coming in the 500. His four medals make An the biggest winner at this year's Sochi Games.
As An skated toward the finish line in the 5,000 relay Friday, just ahead of Team USA's J.R. Celski, this was probably even more bitter for the Americans. Not only did they get second place, but according to a New York Times report, they could have had An. However, they couldn't pay him like the Russians could. The Russians got their money's worth — four medals from An compared to Team USA's silver, its lone short track medal of the Games.
We don't usually think of Olympians as becoming "free agents," but that's essentially what An was. He took his talents to ... Moscow. He's LeBron James or Peyton Manning, leaving for a better chance at winning the ultimate prize, or for another chance to be the star. So An, 28, changed his name and joined the Russians. He used to be Ahn Hyun-soo, but Victor An sounded more like his adopted home.
Friday's win against Team USA wasn't the biggest comeuppance An delivered in Sochi, though. That came by repeatedly beating the South Korean team that cast him away. Yahoo Sports' Martin Rogers dug into that side of the story last week:
"The crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace cared little that An wasn't born in Russia, that he didn't gain citizenship until a couple of years ago and that he would most likely have chosen another country to move to if it had paid him more money [...]
"An wasn't exactly South Korea's most popular man when he switched allegiance, despite the fact that the athlete formerly known as Ahn Hyun-soo had been discarded by the Korean short-track speedskating program because he was too old and too often injured, and it had too many youngsters coming through."
Obviously that's kind of thing that turns a national hero into a gold-medalist for hire.
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