May 19, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

An Olympic Defector Piqued My Interest

3 min read


Last night, as I watched coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, specifically the Short Track Men’s 1500m, I noticed Viktor Ahn racing in a Russian uniform. As an avid Winter Olympic fan, I knew that this particular short track racer had previously competed for South Korea. (If you are interested, check out my guest post on what to expect for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.) It wasn’t more than a few minutes later that I heard the television announcer say that it was weird watching Ahn race for Russia, and not for Korea. My curiosity got the better of my, so I started ‘Googling.’ I ran across the following article Viktor Ahn: South Korean Speed Skater “Defects” to Russia.

Viktor Ahn, wrapped in a Russian flag after winning the bronze medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics

In 2006, during the Turin Winter Olympics, the man formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo raced for South Korea and brought home three gold medals and one bronze medal. However, due to an injury, Ahn Hyun-Soo was unable to compete in the 2010 Vancouver games. The following tidbit from the article explains Ahn Hyun-Soo’s problem and the reason as to why he is now skating for Russia.

“Ahn felt his country – or at least the South Korean short-track speed skating federation – had turned its back on him during his time of misfortune. He was no longer wanted even after he fully recovered from his injuries. South Korea simply had too many world-class skaters to make room for an old Olympic hero.”

Russia, a country that had never won a single short-track medal, was ecstatic to hear that Ahn was looking for another country to represent. They snatched him up, and over the last several years he has made Russia very happy. He has continues to dominate in World tournaments and even brought home the bronze last night–Russia’s first. It all made me wonder, “How often does one defect from one’s country?”

No Kum-Sok-Defector
Lt. No Kum-Sok, he made both the Pilot Defector List and the North Korean Defector List. (Below)

It is an interesting concept to me because defecting is not a common occurrence in the United States. As I try to find names of those that have recently defected from America, there are none. I did find a list, but none of them were recent. Wikipedia has very short list, which is broken down to four specific categories: American collaborators with Fascist Italy‎, American collaborators with Nazi Germany‎, American defectors to China, and American defectors to the Soviet Union. As Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia all occurred decades ago, I saw no point into checking each defector’s defecting dates. I looked at the three Americans/American groups who defected to China, and they were all in the 1950s.

I have only reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to defector history, but it seems as if the majority of them occurred during times of war. There are a slew of those that defected during World War II and the Cold War. So much so, that they have very specific list; this is a list of pilots that defected during the Cold War.

Possibly the country that is most noteworthy would be North Korea. There are all kinds of list just for North Korea. The best list that I found comes from Listverse: 10 Most Amazing North Korean Defectors. From Phillip Buck, a modern-day Harriet Tubman, to Kenji Fujimoto, a man wh0 served as Kim Jong Il’s personal cook for twenty years and provided the American government with lots of inside information, these men and women all displayed great bravery in the face of danger. Furthermore, the statistics of those defecting from North Korea to South Korea is astonishing.

Growing trend of North Koreans defecting to South Korea

As I look at a another recent pattern I noticed that people are no longer defecting just because of conflicting morals, religions, or politics, but for sports. Viktor Ahn is not the first person to defect for greed and ambition. I stumbled across a list of athletes, specifically baseball players, that had defected from Cuba. The following list is just those that defected from Cuba and played in the MLB. The full list, including those that defected and have not played in the MLB, makes it twice as long.

Cuban Defectors in the MLB

1 thought on “An Olympic Defector Piqued My Interest

  1. I have been considering defecting from the human race for most of my life, although I have not yet figured out how to do so. On the other hand, Temple Grandin (the most brilliant autistic person in the world) managed to do so at birth by being born not as a human, but as an animal (sort of like a very intelligent cow, in her case). Old McDonald had a farm . . .

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