Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten was stabbed to death Thursday during a confrontation with car thieves in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Ten, 25, won bronze in the men’s singles competition in the 2014 Sochi Games, becoming Kazakhstan’s first figure skating medalist. At the time, he called the medal, “my gift to my compatriots.”
He was in downtown Almaty, his hometown and Kazakhstan’s largest city, around 3 p.m. local time Thursday, when he encountered thieves trying to steal the mirrors off his car, according to the Kazinform state news service.
He was stabbed in the right thigh and lost a significant amount of blood, was rushed to a nearby hospital and died several hours later, the news service reported.
Ten is a member of Kazakhstan’s Korean minority and left the country at a young age to train with skating coaches around the world. At age 10, he moved to Moscow, then later moved to California to train with renowned coach Frank Carroll.
He was expected to contend for a medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, but finished 27th, hampered by ankle, hip and back injuries.
His medal in 2014 captivated fans who saw a little-known athlete from a country not known for figure skating jump from ninth place to the podium with a near-perfect routine.
Afterward, Ten told reporters “many fans of mine, they moved to Kazakhstan for the whole summer to study the language. They wanted to know more about Central Asia.
“It’s actually a true story,” he said. “I can give you the contacts of my fans.”
He had won silver the year before at the World Figure Skating Championships in Canada, with a performance the Associated Press described as “beautifully breezy and technically impressive.”
His free skate theme at one point had a Silk Road theme, according to the New York Times, which Ten said was appropriate for his biography.
“By coincidence I was born on the Silk Road, and the name of the street where my home was actually means ‘silk way’ in Kazakh,” he told the Times in 2015. “It’s a cool story, and I feel myself like I’m a nomad who explores the world and explores the silk way and gets his life experience through it.”
His death sent shock waves through the skating community. Johnny Weir, the skater turned NBC analyst, wrote that he was “completely devastated” by the news, and that Ten “was as bright and kind as he was talented.” Canadian ice dancer Scott Moir wrote that “it was an honour to share the ice with him.”
“Denis, thank you for showing us how to be a champion,” wrote American skater Adam Rippon. “Your time with us was way too short. Love you forever.”
IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement that Ten “was a great athlete and a great ambassador for his sport. A warm personality and a charming man. Such a tragedy to lose him at such a young age.”
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