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South Korea short track star reportedly bids to skate for China at Beijing Olympics

Lim Hyo-Jun

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 22: Hyojun Lim of Korea prepares to compete during the Short Track Speed Skating - Men’s 500m Final A on day thirteen of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 22, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Lim Hyo-Jun, the world’s top short track speed skater when he was banned one year for allegedly pantsing a male teammate in front of female skaters in 2019, has been in the process of changing his nationality to China to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, according to media in his native South Korea.

Lim, who earned South Korea’s first gold medal of the PyeongChang Olympics in the 1500m, completed a Chinese naturalization process and left for that country to train with the Chinese program, according to South Korean media citing Lim’s agency.

The news of the 24-year-old Lim’s one-year suspension came in August 2019, but the case has reached a supreme court in South Korea. If Lim is not cleared, it’s possible his suspension could restart and rule him out of next year’s Olympics, should he remain a South Korean, according to reports.

“As the legal battle dragged on, it has become difficult for Lim to represent South Korea and try to win his second straight Olympic gold medal in Beijing,” Lim’s agency said, according to a Yonhap News Agency translation. “He hasn’t been able to train anywhere in Korea for the past two years. He just wanted to find ways to put his skates back on.”

Lim’s case is reminiscent (though slightly different than that) of Viktor Ahn, who won three golds for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics as Ahn-Hyun Soo.

Ahn missed South Korea’s team for the 2010 Olympics after undergoing four knee surgeries in the 15 months leading up to the Olympic Trials. Ahn’s club team dissolved, and his father contacted Russia’s federation. He became a citizen in 2011, then earned three golds among four medals for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Ahn, now retired, was announced as a coach of China’s short track program last year.

South Korea’s skating federation doled out Lim’s 2019 ban for sexual harassment after reviewing video of the incident and speaking with Lim and the unnamed teammate, according to media at the time.

Lim, who was dubbed a “virtual unknown” upon winning South Korea’s 2018 Olympic Trials, followed his PyeongChang gold by winning world titles in the overall, 1000m, 1500m, 3000m and 5000m relay in 2019.

The 2020 World Championships and the entire 2020-21 World Cup season were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This season’s world championships are happening this weekend in the Netherlands. South Korea and China, the two most successful short track nations in Olympic history, did not send teams to the event.

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