Speedskaters Step Up Abuse Allegations Against Coach
The abuse allegations against U.S. Olympic short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun have escalated with a demand for arbitration and an "open and ongoing investigation" by police.
But while a large group of skaters charge Chun with abuse, another set has issued a statement in support of the coach.
As we reported Monday, 19 active and former short track skaters, including five Olympic medalists, have filed complaints and grievances with U.S. Speedskating (USS) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). They allege physical, verbal and psychological abuse, and insulting and intimidating comments directed at women skaters.
In a statement, Chun denied any abusive behavior but admitted to pushing one skater. He was then put on administrative leave while U.S. Speedskating investigates.
The skaters involved in the dispute have upped the ante. NPR has obtained a police report filed by skaters Jeff Simon and Levi Kirkpatrick with the Unified Police Department in suburban Salt Lake City. In an initial interview, Simon told detective Scott Lloyd that Chun has "explosive anger" and that male and female athletes have been subjected to "personal attacks ... some physical in nature."
Chun is described as "above aggressive and very demeaning to the athletes," the report says. In an incident described by Simon, Chun allegedly pushed on the athlete's back and "towards the ground causing considerable pain." This occurred, Simon said, after he told Chun he had an injured back due to training.
Simon and Kirkpatrick told the detective that other skaters did not report to the police because they "accept this as standard practice and ... were scared that [complaints] may hinder their progress in the skating program."
Both skaters were told to gather more specific information, including dates and times of incidents. They were also told that the suburban Salt Lake City police agency would only investigate incidents that occurred in its jurisdiction.
"This is an open and ongoing investigation," the police report concludes.
The release of the report came as an attorney for the skaters filed a "Demand for Arbitration" with the American Arbitration Association and U.S. Speedskating.
The filing contains "further and more specific allegations of abuse and other coach misconduct," says attorney Edward Williams. But Williams declined to provide the filing document or describe the additional allegations.
Williams wants an arbitration hearing held and concluded before his clients begin to compete next week in the opening short track competition of the season at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah. Athletes train at the oval and most live in Utah so they can train there.
"The athletes hope that, with today's filing of a Demand for Arbitration ... U.S. Speedskating will realize it can no longer defend the abusive conduct of their coaches, much of which occurred in their very own facility and in the presence of USS Staff, and was reported to USS by the athletes," Williams says.
Chun was replaced temporarily by assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo, who is also named in the complaints and grievances filed by the athletes. U.S. Speedskating says none of the specific incidents of abuse alleged by athletes mentioned Yeo but Williams says the Demand for Arbitration is more specific about Yeo's alleged role.
Williams also says the 14 active skaters who are part of the dispute have been boycotting official National Racing Program (NRP) practices and have been training instead with private coaches in the Olympic Oval's FAST program. They will not skate for Chun or Yeo, Williams says, if they continue as coaches.
Meanwhile, nine other skaters who continue to train with the NRP program issued a statement late Tuesday defending their coaches.
An email sent to select news organizations by skaters Lana Gehring, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, and Jessica Smith dismisses "baseless allegations of abuse that are nothing more than a false attack on [Chun's] character."
Referring to Chun and Yeo, the athletes wrote, "we have never seen any abuse take place - physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional — and we know these men are not capable of abuse."
The names of seven other skaters appeared at the bottom of the email "in full support of this statement."
The dispute throws into turmoil a program that produced, under Chun, medals for each of the 10 U.S. short track skaters who competed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Silver medalists Apolo Anton Ohno and Katherine Reutter have not been vocal about the abuse allegations. Since the Vancouver games, Ohno has not competed and Reutter has suffered injuries.
Five 2010 bronze medalists, including Travis Jayner, Jordan Malone, J.R. Celski, Allison Baver and Alyson Dudek, are among those who have joined the complaints against Chun, Yeo and a temporary coach.
In the history of the Olympics, long and short track speedskating have produced more medals for the U.S. than any other winter sport.