Ahn's arrival a real golden opportunity

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FILE PHOTO: Viktor Ahn (L) of Russia and Da Woon Sin of South Korea compete in the men's 1500m final race during the ISU Short Track World Cup speed skating competition in Shanghai December 8, 2012. Ahn won the gold medal.

China's reported recruitment of short-track speed skating great Viktor Ahn comes as a major boost to the country's Olympic gold-medal ambitions.

According to the Sports Seoul newspaper, the six-time Olympic champion will sign up with the Chinese national team as a coach to help the host prepare for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

A source at China's National Winter Sports Administrative Center told China Daily on Wednesday that "the team has not received any official notice from the top governing body regarding the confirmation of the news". The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

South Korea-born Ahn is now self-isolating after arriving in Qingdao, Shandong province, according to the Sports Seoul report, which says he will sign a contract worth 3 million yuan ($430,000) a year.

Speculation surrounding Ahn's potential move to China first swirled in March after the 34-year-old competed in the men's 1,000m at an internal Team China test event in Beijing, just a month before he announced his retirement on April 27 citing a knee injury.

The closed-door competition was held as an evaluation for China's best skaters, including reigning men's 500m Olympic champion Wu Dajing, to fill the void left by the cancellation of the world championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should his signing be confirmed, the coaching role will open a new chapter in Ahn's storied career after the Seoul native switched nationality to Russia in 2011 following a feud with the South Korean skating association. He later competed for Russia as a naturalized athlete at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Born Hyun-soo, Ahn burst onto the short-track scene at 20 by winning three gold medals and a bronze for his native country at the 2006 Turin Games.

However, citing a lack of support from South Korea's skating authorities during his recovery from a severe knee injury leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Games, Ahn accepted an offer to join the Russian team and changed his name to Viktor.

Ahn added three more golds in Sochi to bring his Olympic title collection to six, becoming the Winter Games' most successful short-track speed skater. He also won 20 individual world championship titles.

Ahn is expected to join compatriots Kim Sun-tae, South Korea's former short-track squad manager, and physical trainer Kim Changback on Team China's coaching crew, which also features former Team Canada men's coach Derrick Campbell.

The Chinese short-track team has gone through a series of personnel changes since May 2019, when long-term head coach Li Yan was replaced by her former student Wang Meng-a move which resulted in plenty of raised eyebrows.

Kim, who led the host to three golds, one silver and two bronze medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, was hired by China following the appointment of Wang, whose four Olympic golds make her China's most successful short-track skater.

After serving just 11 months as head of a merged short-and long-track national team, Wang was surprisingly removed from the post, with cross-country skiing team leader Zhang Bei taking over as an interim manager.

Ahn's arrival is expected to draw a line under the management reshuffle as the 2022 Winter Games approach.

China's short-track skaters have contributed 10 out of the 13 golds the country has won since its Winter Olympics debut in 1980.

However, the team's inability to keep pace with South Korea and the Netherlands during a turbulent 2019-20 season has sounded alarm bells ahead of the 2022 Games.

The short-track team finished the six-leg World Cup season with 10 gold medals-far behind arch-rival Korea's haul (24). No Chinese skaters managed to top overall standings in any of the circuit's nine disciplines, allegedly resulting in Wang's removal.

China has hired a glittering cast of international winter sports experts as it targets a record number of gold medals at Beijing 2022. They include Norway's eight-time Olympic champion biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Bud Keene-the former coach of snowboard legend Shaun White-and retired German bobsledder Andre Lange, a fourtime Olympic gold medalist.

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