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Short track: Russia's Ahn looking to upstage Asian rivals

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia's Victor Ahn will be looking to upstage his native South Korea and put the Olympic hosts on the medals table for the first time in short track speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo, is the only short-tracker to win four medals in one Olympics with his three gold and bronze in 2006 for South Korea before falling out with the team, and after failing to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Games he switched citizenship to compete for Russia.

Russia warmed up for Sochi by dominating the European championships at the weekend with 28-year-old Ahn taking three titles as the Olympic hosts won ten medals in total including five gold in Dresden, Germany.

Ahn won the 500m, 1000m and 3000m, with Semen Elistratov winning over 1500m and the 5000m men's relay, in a competition which saw Dutch speedskater Sjinkie Knegt disqualified for flicking a V sign at Ahn after losing the 5,000m relay.

The pair will renew their rivalry in Sochi.

Russia have never medalled in Olympic short track although a Unified Team competing following the break-up of the former Soviet Union in the 1992 Games won bronze in the women's 3000m relay.

Big names such as American Apolo Anton Ohno, the only short tracker to win eight Olympic medals, will be missing this time, with the duel between China and South Korea set to heat up the Iceberg Arena as other nations such as Canada bid to get a look in on a sport where dramatic crashes can lead to unexpected results.

Short track has been an Olympic event since the 1992 Albertville Games and includes eight events - 500m, 1,000m, and 1,500m individually for both men and women and the relays - men's 5000m and women's 3000m.

Four years ago in Vancouver, China won four titles, and South Korea went home with eight medals including two gold, as the Asian nations ruled the rink, although hosts Canada got five medals, with the United States and Italy also getting on the medals table.

The two Asian nations are always strong, but this time around China have been weakened as four-time Olympic champion Wang Meng, winner of the 500m in both 2006 and 2010, is doubtful to compete with an ankle injury.

Wang, also won gold over 1,000m in Vancouver, but her title sweep hit the wall when she crashed in the 1,500m. She helped the team win the 3,000 relay gold.

The loss of the 28-year-old would be a bitter blow, as she took three of China's four gold medals in Vancouver. Chinese women's hopes are lying with Fan Kexin, two-time world champion over 500m, and their relay teams.

South Korea are counting on their protege Shim Suk-hee, already winner of the last two World Cups at just 17 years, and formidable over 1000m and 1500m.

Canada can count on their golden couple Marianne St-Gelais, the Olympic runner-up in 2010 over 500m and in the relay, and her boyfriend Charles Hamelin, Olympic champion in the 500m and relay.

For his third Olympics 28-year-old Hamelin insists that he has "never been so strong, quick and efficient in his tactical choices".

His rivals should be South Korean Lee Han-bin, China's Dajing Wu and American JR Celski, 23, a two-time bronze medallist in Vancouver.

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

The speed skating takes place at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi from February 10-21.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140121/short-track-russias-ahn-looking-upstage-asian-rivals