At the advanced age of 31, Victor An, South Korean-born Russian short track speed skater, knows next year's Winter Olympics in his native land could well be his last.
And when the PyeongChang Winter Games roll around next February, An just wants to enjoy himself.
"Throughout my career, I've competed under a lot of pressure," An told reporters after practice with the rest of the Russian national team in Seoul on Monday. The Russian skaters arrived at Korea National Sport University last week.
Victor An, Russian short track speed skater born Ahn Hyun-soo in South Korea, trains at Seoul's Korea National Sport University on July 17, 2017. (Yonhap)
"And at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, I want to have fun skating, rather than worry about results," An added. "There's a great deal of parity in short track. So instead of trying to do well in every race, I should really concentrate on a few events. Since the 1,500m is the first event, I'll try to prepare for that race thoroughly."
An was born Ahn Hyun-soo in South Korea, and won three gold medals for his native country at the 2006 Torino Winter Games. His name was synonymous with short track in South Korea, but after suffering through a series of injuries and growing disenchantment with factional feuds in South Korean short track, An obtained his Russian passport in 2011.
The veteran then won three more Olympic gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Games, becoming the new winter sports hero for his adopted nation. No Russian short tracker had ever won an Olympic gold before An.
An said on top of winning races, he now has to assume more of a leadership role for the Russian team, too.
"I am the third-oldest skater on the men's and women's teams," he said. "I have to lead young skaters by example. Now that I am a bit older, (skating) is taking its toll on me, but I want to keep doing my best."
Asked how he's trying to be a leader, An said, "I've been answering whatever questions that younger skaters might have. I am trying to hand down my technical know-how."
An stressed the importance of team chemistry in short track, and recalled how hard he tried to jell with his Russian teammates when he first arrived.
"In my early days, there was a strong losing culture, and the Russians would lose a mental edge even before going up against skaters from Korea, Canada or China," An said. "But I think the team has gotten better over the years and now has more confidence as a group."
Victor An, Russian short track speed skater born Ahn Hyun-soo in South Korea, speaks with reporters after practice at Seoul's Korea National Sport University on July 17, 2017. (Yonhap)
An and the Russian team came here for a two-week camp.
KNSU is An's alma mater, and he admitted he felt "comfortable" being back on the same ice where he trained more than a decade ago.
He trained with tape on his neck and shoulder areas. He said he's been trying to take it a bit easy since he only just completed his off-ice program.
"The PyeongChang Olympics will be the really important competition," he added. "I'll try to get back into form through the upcoming World Cup races and the European championships."
Asked if he'll hang up his skates after PyeongChang, An said he feels he can keep going beyond the Olympics "as long as I take care of my body."
"I've been skating for so long that it's not easy to just decide I am going to quit," he said. "If I were to compare this to a marathon, I think I am past the 40km mark (in the 42.195km race). And it's actually more fun skating nowadays, knowing I am close to the finish line. I've been talking to my family a lot about my future. Maybe I could do something entirely different (from short track)."
An last competed in South Korea in December last year, when Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul, hosted the International Skating Union World Cup Short Track Speed Skating.
It was An's first competition at home since his move to Russia. While the crowd received him warmly, An said he was prepared for the possibility that he might get booed at the Olympics.
"I think the crowd's reaction may bother me, but I won't think about that now," he said. "It's something I have to deal with, and I braced myself for this ever since I first got my Russian passport. Not everyone will think of me the same way." (Yonhap)