GENERICO.ruSport"God" with trauma and powerful bosses: the story of Russia's most amazing gold

“God” with trauma and powerful bosses: the story of Russia's most amazing gold

Ten years ago, the most managerial victory of Russian sports took place at the Olympic Games in Sochi. Sports tells how our sports authorities found a coach and one injured athlete abroad, turning the whole sport upside down.

How not to disgrace the country?
The fact that we in Sochi are able to win the relay race in skiing and biathlon, it was not believed with ease, but according to tradition. But plans for relay gold in short track speed skating were greeted with loud laughter by Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko in his office on Kazakova, 18. But then he frowned and began setting his subordinates a task, in the solution of which the whole country gradually began to believe.

Short track in Russia before the Olympics consisted of disparate regional groups of enthusiasts who formed a team under the leadership of random coaches – either an average Chinese or a Korean with a slightly more skilled hand.

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No money, no fame, just a legend, retold as if it were true, long forgotten. In perestroika times, St. Petersburg coach Yuri Pavlovsky gathered retired figure skaters and speed skaters into a “show track” (that’s how the girls heard the name of the new sport) and with them won silver at the 1991 World Championships and bronze at the Olympic Games in Albertville. That's where the cool achievements ended.

When we received the right to host the Games in Sochi, the question arose: what can be squeezed out of a medal-winning short track? The prospects were funny and sad, but the maximalism of the people who managed that story was off the charts: Mutko, his deputy Yuri Nagornykh and the president of the Russian Skating Union Alexei Kravtsov. The country had to be not disgraced, but how?

Of the short track speed skaters at our disposal, none were capable of reaching a full-fledged world level. They didn’t count on a girls’ team – the best years of European champion Tanya Borodulina were over, but she didn’t even have equals in the country. Men? They were there, but with no guarantees of success. They shot at the level of the European Championship, and this is compared to the Olympics in the Football League of Conferences.

The current prime minister of Russian short track, Semyon Elistratov, was then a daring all-rounder, but not yet so cunning and self-possessed. And short track speed skating is all about geometric intelligence and the ability to take your time. The strength sprinter Vladimir Grigoriev from Klin, near Moscow, a naturalized citizen of Ukraine, was distinguished by his reliability. Close to them in terms of level was Ruslan Zakharov, an athlete with a professional approach who later helped him in another sport. Plus the frenzied young man Dmitry Migunov. Dimka had as much sprinting talent as he had nerves. At a distance of 500 meters, he was able to compete with world stars, but he pounded the ice and disrupted the race. Perhaps that is why the coaches chose Zakharov over him in the golden relay. Later, Dima will quarrel with the leadership of the TFR, will be expelled from the national team, will sign up for France, but will not achieve success there either.

All these four best short track speed skaters in the country did not convince the authorities. The team needed a leader, and our leaders started with the most delicious option – the officially recognized “god of short track”, whom the Americans also tried to lure, but they did not have enough resources.

Doctors advised against it
Ahn (then his name was Ahn Hyun-soo) came to Russia as a three-time Olympic champion in Turin and a genius rejected in his homeland. Here it is important to understand the specifics of short track speed skating in South Korea: this is almost the only country in the world where this sport is more popular than big speed skates, there are a lot of sections in the country, many children are gifted by nature – body flexibility and speed. Today you won three Olympic golds, and tomorrow a younger and angrier person will take your place. For Koreans, physical maturity is more important than talent a priori.

The Koreans scrapped Ana, but this did not prevent them from winning two individual men's victories out of three possible and taking silver in the relay at the next Olympics in Vancouver. The Koreans would have won all the gold without any Ahn, if not for the great Canadian Charles Hamelin, who shone in his prime at the home Games. By the way, Ahn’s “successor”, two-time Olympic champion in 2010 Yi Jeong-soo, soon injured his back and was also forgotten by the Games in Sochi. Practical Korean approach.

In 2008, An suffered a severe knee injury, which left him no chance at home. The head of the Investigative Committee, Kravtsov, told me that after the first medical examination in Russia, all the doctors recommended that he refuse the services of this legionnaire. Not a guy for big tasks. The doctors were competent and spoke honestly, but in sports there are always exceptions – Korean specialists (and probably Russian ones) would probably have finished off Vitya with intense training, so the leadership of the Russian team was entrusted to the phlegmatic, bespectacled graduate student Frenchman Sebastien Cros, who had previously successfully worked with Canadian women's team at the Games in Vancouver.

He stands across your throat
Why is he actually a “god”? No one can decipher the mechanics of Lionel Messi's actions on the field, just as no one in short track speed skating could decipher Ana.


"He can drive slowly, but you still won’t overtake him. Well, if you don’t give it your all, you won’t get lucky. Sometimes you go after him, you plan something, but Victor sees all your plans behind his back, but does not show it until the last moment. You think, well, here’s a chance, you pour out your last strength, and then An adds just a little speed, stands not even across you, but across your very throat and… rests,” said Grigoriev, who, clinging to Vitya in the triumphant finale Sochi thousand-meter race, won personal silver.

It was hard to predict An in real life. One of his conditions for playing for the Russian national team was to constantly be near (at training camps, training sessions, competitions) a girl named U Na Ri. A snub-nosed beauty with glossy white skin, whose age was unrecognizable due, in particular, to the famous Korean cosmetology, flew to Moscow after An.


The team wondered: “Who is this?” Either they were afraid to violate someone else's etiquette by asking Victor directly, or they asked, but he did not answer. Wife? Girlfriend? Friend? Muse? Even An's father couldn't give a clear answer. Nari, as she was simply called in the team, turned out to be Ana’s fan, who managed to win his heart and soon become his wife.

An respectfully communicated with everyone on the team, he was completely devoid of the instinct of arrogance, but he was not truly friends with anyone. In sports he was an ideal professional, but in life he existed only for Nari. Of the Russian people, in my opinion, he trusted only the team leader, Evgeny Kurgunyan. Ahn was not the leader of the team, he did not give motivational speeches in the locker room, he was a talented loner who stepped in at the decisive moment and won.

This public “An factor” even irritated his partners. After the Olympics in Sochi, Elistratov quickly and for a long time became the leader of the team (bronze in Pyeongchang and Beijing), who was offended by Victor’s total role in the team’s success. Once Semyon was riding in a taxi from the airport and heard from the driver: “The Korean wins everything there.” The Korean did not win everything, but when others won, the Korean seemed to tighten the screws and reveal the missing trump cards to the others. Remember the same Olympic semi-final of the relay, where the Russians made two important overtakes, and both of them were composed by An. Naturally, it was he who finished in the final on the Iceberg ice on February 21, 2014.

In Russia, Victor received citizenship and a house, but did not connect his life with our country. He worked in China, returned to South Korea, where last year he was unable to find a job in his specialty due to, as the Yonhap agency reported, naturalization in Russia.

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Elistratov continues his career and trains in Ufa at the short track center named after himself – Semyon Elistratov.

Grigoriev is the senior coach of the Russian national team.

Zakharov went into speed skating and won silver at the 2022 Olympics in the team race.

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Cross was thinking about Russian citizenship, but left it after the money ran out for him, and is now successfully working with the new generation of the Canadian national team.

A year before the Olympic Games in Sochi, Kravtsov dreamed of short track speed skating. as a new national sport in Russia. A hockey box, inside everyone is racing in a circle, pushing, falling, and the one who runs first wins. Entertaining and simple. “People will love short track speed skating if…” said Alexey Yurievich. “If it can be untwisted,” I interjected. “If we win medals at the Olympics, everything will be fine with popularity,” the speed skating boss shared his optimism.

We won the medals. Three gold, silver and bronze. And in 2023, the most striking event in Russian short track speed skating was the video of the guys from the “Greetings from Africa” project, who recorded the announcement of the Ufa stage of the Russian Cup. Everyone laughed, but there are still no fans in the stands of the new arenas, except for the wives, girlfriends and children of short track speed skaters. Kravtsov no longer leads the Investigative Committee, Mutko and Nagorny have long been absent from Olympic sports. All that remains is the memory of how this group of managers suddenly turned out to be powerful exactly ten years ago.


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