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Ahn Hyun-soo, an individual beats the country

Posted February. 18, 2014 00:29,   


In the year of Euro 2008, I was in Paris as a correspondent. I watched a soccer game between Germany and Poland on TV on an evening. Lukas Podolski, a Polish-born German soccer player, scored two goals and led Germany to the victory against Poland. He neither celebrated his goal nor seemed happy about it, which was quite unusual for him. But Polish spectators booed him. I could imagine how uncomfortable he would have felt.

Last weekend, I watched Ahn Hyun-soo cut the finish line first in the men’s 1,000- meter short track speed skating and win a gold medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Both my family and I had mixed feelings. Ahn did not deprive a Korean skater of the top position or a medal. Then what made us so uncomfortable?

Had both the Korean skater and Ahn done well, I wouldn’t have felt so. Rather, I must have been proud of the fact that Ahn’s capacity has been recognized by Russia. Many Korean coaches are in other countries to teach archery and short track speed skating, and their players often compete with Korean players in the global competitions. On one hand, I feel somewhat uneasy when players from other countries chase Korean players. On the other hand, it makes me happy because the competition seems like a competition among us in a broader context.

I had mixed feelings because I felt like poor players drove out an excellent player before my eyes. Ahn who always plays a fair game and wins made such a contrast to Korean players who made more fouls than foreign players and ruined other players’ performance. In addition, it was disappointing that Ahn could not have a chance to play for the Korean team and was forced to leave the country in order to continue his career.

I watched Ahn wave a Russian national flag on the ice and sing the Russian anthem in the medal ceremony. I could never congratulate him. It was just sad. Podolski was born in Poland but moved to Germany at two years old. In addition, his grandparents were German citizens who lived on German soil before World War II broke. Podolski is basically German and he chose Germany between the two options of nationality. He once said in an interview that he has one German heart and one Polish heart. What about Ahn? Ahn has no connection in Russia. He cannot speak Russian well. Though people say we live in a world transcending borders, Russia cannot be his true fatherland to him.

Ahn, however, seemed really happy. He kissed the ice and shed tears. I think I witnessed a moment beyond a competition between countries. It was an individual’s victory over a country.

Does your fatherland never change just because it is your fatherland? A fatherland has its meaning when it helps individuals realize their dreams. rather, being a Korean citizen just shattered Ahn’s dream. He chose the only option – giving up his fatherland. His tears proved him right to his girlfriend, parents, and above all to himself.

Viktor Ahn opened a new chapter that an individual can win a country. It seems unfamiliar now but we will see more Viktor Ahns going forward if the bureaucracy of the sports community remains and if political fights and the manipulation of game results continue to exist for the spoils of games such as exemption of military duty or prizes.