SOCHI, Russia -- Viktor Ahn clapped as he crossed the finish line after leading Russia to Olympic gold in the 5,000-meter relay. His adopted country applauded right back, loudly cheering the short track skater the Russians have embraced as a new national hero.
"This will be the best Olympics in my life," he said in Korean. "I will never forget it."
Fittingly, Ahn capped his four-medal performance at the Sochi Games with gold in the relay, a medal he wanted the most as a way to unify the team he joined after forsaking his native South Korea.
"I'm so happy to be able to smile in the end with my teammates," he said.
Ahn won two golds on Friday's final night of short track to tie retired star Apolo Anton Ohno for the most career Olympic medals in the rough and tumble sport with eight. Ahn won four golds at the 2006 Turin Games, and added a bronze and three golds in Sochi.
Ahn clinched the relay by taking the lead for good after passing American J.R. Celski with eight laps to go. Earlier in the evening, he won the 500, the only event Ahn had never won in two Olympics.
"He just shows he is the best guy in the world, definitely here," Ohno said. "He's got eight medals, six gold. Perhaps the best ever to put short track speed skates on. Yeah, I would say so."
The 28-year-old Seoul-born skater switched nationalities in 2011 after competing for South Korea as Ahn Hyun-soo in Turin. A career-threatening knee injury in 2008 and multiple surgeries forced him to miss the Vancouver Games. Turmoil with his skating club in South Korea and his long recovery time led Ahn to find a new home in Russia.
"I made a decision and I have no regret," Ahn said. "I would like to thank Russia."
The decibel level inside Iceberg Skating Palace was higher for Ahn than it had been a night earlier when Adelina Sotnikova became the country's first gold medalist in women's figure skating in the same building.
"So many people supported me," Ahn said.
The mostly Russian crowd chanted the first name of their adopted red-headed star as he mounted the top spot on the medal podium twice in a row at the end of the night.
The relay got off to a chaotic start with China and the Netherlands crashing not even halfway through the opening lap. It became a two-nation race between Russia and the U.S. for most of the 45 laps.
Chris Creveling briefly put the U.S. in front with 15 laps left, overtaking Vladimir Grigorev. But Ahn rallied his teammates Grigorev, Semen Elistratov and Ruslan Zakharov to victory.
Eddy Alvarez, Celski, Creveling and Jordan Malone took silver for the first U.S. medal in speedskating at the Sochi Games. The U.S. speedskaters were shut out in 12 long track events, and had failed to get on the podium in the first seven short track races.
The medal helped the Americans avoid a shutout for the first time since 1998 in Nagano.
"It's an honor to bring back a silver to the United States," Alvarez said.
The Chinese team of Chen Dequan, Han Tianyu, Shi Jingnan and Wu Dajing overcame the early trouble to take bronze.
Earlier, Ahn rallied to win the 500, overtaking Wu on the last lap after Liang Wenhao of China crashed out. It was the only Olympic race Ahn had never captured, and he became the first skater to win all four individual events at an Olympics in his career.
"It was Ahn's clinic on how to short track speedskate tonight. He wrote a textbook," Ohno said of Ahn's 500 race.
Ohno, now retired and working as a TV commentator at the games, had been confident that Ahn would tie his record set from 2002-2010.
Ahn earned bronze in the 1,500, giving Russia its first medal in the sport on the opening day of competition in Sochi. He then won the 1,000.
Wu earned silver and Charle Cournoyer of Canada took bronze in the men's sprint.
In the women's 1,000, Park Seung-hi of South Korea won her third medal of the games.
Park took over the lead for good from American Jessica Smith early in the race. Park earned her other gold medal in the women's 3,000 relay, and took bronze in the 500.
Fan Kexin of China earned silver, and Shim Suk-hee of South Korea earned bronze. Shim also won her third medal, having taken silver in the 1,500 and joining Park on the victorious relay.
Smith, of Melvindale, Mich., finished last.
Jorien ter Mors of the Netherlands finished third in her 1,000-meter semifinal heat, ending her bid to become the first speed skater to win medals in both short and long track. She had already won gold in the 1,500 on the big oval.