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Koreans outraged as star becomes Russian

SEOUL--Local fans attacked South Korea skating administrators Wednesday after star speed skater Ahn Hyun-Soo — a national sporting hero and triple Olympic champion — switched his citizenship to compete for Russia.

Ahn was reportedly disenchanted with factional infighting within the Korea Skating Union (KSU).

Ahn, also a five-time short track world gold medalist, said Wednesday he had decided to renounce his South Korean citizenship and become Russian in order to appear for his new country at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The star has been training in Russia since June this year, after he fell into a slump due to knee injury in 2008. He failed to make the South Koraen national team for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“I've decided to work in better environment and keep myself focused on the sport,” Ahn, 25, said on his Internet homepage.

When he gains Russian citizenship, his South Korean nationality will automatically be nullified, said Ahn.

“I will practice earnestly in order to show my best performance in the upcoming Olympic games and not to regret my decision,” he said.

Yonhap news agency said Ahn had become “disenchanted with endless factional disputes” within the KSU and decided to move to Russia to start afresh in new environment.

His father, Ahn Ki-Won, was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency: “He's been deeply hurt. He had no supporters here.”

Fans were outraged and deluged the KSU website with condemnations.

“Shame on you. The union must apologize and tackle the problem,” a user named as paxsky16 wrote on the site.

“Short track events used to keep people glued to TV screens, but if factional disputes drive the fans away, the sport in this country will collapse sooner or later,” the user continued.

Another comment left by uiu777 said the union was responsible for Ahn's decision.

“This is really a sad thing. The Korea Skating Union's fault in failing to protect Ahn is something deplorable,” uiu777 said.

Kim Beom-Ju, a senior KSU official, admitted that the organization had been rife with in-house rivalry “in the past,” but blamed Ahn's injury and long slump, coupled with economic reasons, for his decision.

“It is just regrettable that we've lost a good skater. I hope he may do well in Russia,” he told AFP.

Ahn father said the skater would take part in the selection competition next month for Russia's national team for international events.

The Russian Skaters Union (RSU) and the country's sports ministry have asked the presidential citizenship board to grant Ahn Russian citizenship, the RSU press service reported Tuesday.

“He renounced his Korean citizenship and decided to put his faith in Russia,” said RSU president Alexei Kravtsov.

The RSU chief added that he was hoping that Ahn would receive a Russian passport in October.

The sensational move comes as Russia seeks to win around a dozen gold medals at the Sochi Games, at a time when its Soviet-era dominance of winter sports is on the wane.

South Korea leads the all-time short track medal tally at the Olympics with 19 gold medals and 37 overall.

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