Speed skater Lim reportedly quits South Korea for China

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Lim Hyo-jun. [Photo/Xinhua]

South Korean Lim Hyo-jun, one of the world's top short-track speed skaters, hopes to compete for Team China at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics after completing the naturalization process to change nationality, according to Yonhap news agency.

The 24-year-old, who won the 1,500m gold medal and the 500m bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, is reportedly concerned he will not be able to represent South Korea in 2022 because of a legal battle he is fighting in his native country. By Sunday afternoon, the Chinese Skating Association had not responded to the reports.

Lim received a one-year suspension from speed skating in August 2019 after being accused of sexual harassment during a national team training session. He allegedly pulled down the pants of a male teammate in front of several women, and the Korean Skating Union suspended the Olympic champion from competition after reviewing CCTV footage of the incident.

The case has reached a supreme court in South Korea, and Lim fears it could affect his chances of being selected for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

"As the legal battle dragged on, it has become difficult for Lim to represent South Korea and try to win his second straight Olympic gold medal in Beijing," Lim's management agency was quoted by Yonhap News Agency.

"He hasn't been able to train anywhere in South Korea for the past two years. He just wanted to find ways to put his skates back on."

After claiming gold in Pyeongchang, Lim also starred at the 2019 world championships, claiming titles in the 1,000m, 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m relay and the overall event.

Even if he was free of suspension, Lim's momentum would have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 worlds and the entire 2020-21 World Cup season.

Joining Team China allows Lim to reunite with his former coach, Kim Sun-tae, who is now leading the Chinese short-track squad. Kim led South Korea to three golds, one silver and two bronze medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and then was hired by China in 2019.

Kim's coaching team also includes short-track speed skating great Viktor Ahn. The six-time Olympic champion, also known as Ahn Hyun-soo, won three gold medals and a bronze for his native South Korea at the 2006 Turin Games.

However, Ahn missed the 2010 Games in Vancouver after undergoing four knee surgeries in the space of 15 months. Citing a lack of support from South Korea's skating authorities, he then accepted an offer to join the Russian team and changed his name to Viktor.

Ahn won three titles for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games to take his Olympic gold total to six, becoming the Winter Games' most successful short-track speed skater. He also won 20 individual world championship titles. He joined China's short-track program last year as a coach.

So, the career trajectories of Kim and Ahn are believed to be another reason for Lim's decision to switch to Team China. Lim's arrival, along with a glittering cast of winter sports experts, will further boost expectations of a strong performance from the host at the 2022 Games.

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