Switching citizenship a gateway to Games

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Switching citizenship a gateway to Games

Every athlete dreams of competing on the world stage at the Olympics. The infrequency of the event, which occurs every four years, whips up the athletes’ competitive desires and sometimes leads to them switching their nationalities to qualify for the Games. This year, several naturalized athletes are participating in the Sochi Olympics.

Ahn Hyun-soo, now Viktor Ahn, who won three gold medals and a bronze for Korea in the 2006 Turin Olympics, is back in the limelight after winning the 1,000 meters men’s short track speed skating in Sochi. But this time, the honor went to Russia. Ahn became a Russian naturalized citizen after falling victim of the Korea Skating Union’s power struggles. With his new citizenship, Ahn won Russia’s first short track gold medal and became a hero in the nation.

Russians have also competed for other countries. For example, Iouri Podladtchikov, a 26-year-old snowboarder who was born in Russia, won the gold medal in the halfpipe for Switzerland in Sochi. He represented Russia in 2006, but since the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Podladtchikov has been competing for Switzerland, where he has been living since he was 4.

Tatiana Volosozhar changed her nationality from Ukrainian to Russian in order to compete in the Games alongside her husband, Maxim Trankov, in the pairs free skating and team event in Sochi. The couple won gold medals in both events.

Vic Wild is another athlete who chose love over one’s first nationality. Wild was born an American but applied for Russian citizenship in 2011 after marrying fellow snowboarder Alena Zavarzina of Russia.

Alpine skier Alessia Afi Dipol, 19, has switched her passport twice. She was born in Italy but skied for India from 2012-13. She then became a naturalized citizen of Togo in order to qualify to compete in Sochi. Togo is making its Winter Olympics debut this year. Its team consists of two members, Dipol and 20-year-old cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean.

Meanwhile, the Jamaican bobsled team qualified for the Sochi Olympics thanks to a fund-raising campaign launched by global sports fans. The campaign raised enough money to cover the team’s cost of $80,000. Also, Tonga’s first Olympic luger, whose birth name is Fuahea Semi, changed his name to Bruno Banani, the name of the German men’s underwear company that sponsored him.

“The princess [of Tonga] insisted on me participating in the Winter Olympics as a luger,” said the 26-year-old athlete.

BY SONG JI-HOON [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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