Speedskaters: Coach abused athletes, officials failed to react
Complaints filed by more than a dozen current and former members of the U.S. Speedskating team — including five Olympic bronze medalists, pictured above — say verbal, physical and psychological abuse from coaches was relentless, and claim the federation shrugged off the athletes’ grievances and cheated on its taxes.
Published: September 15, 2012 03:26PM
Updated: December 25, 2012 11:32PM
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File photo | The Associated Press Short-track coach Jae Su Chun is accused of abuse.

Short-track coaches within U.S. Speedskating have abused athletes, discriminated against women, engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and provided alcohol to minors while officials systematically ignored athletes’ complaints about it all, according to complaints filed in the last two weeks by more than a dozen current and former skaters — including five Olympic medalists.

The bombshell complaints also charge that U.S. Speedskating, based at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, should not be recognized as the “national governing body” for the sport because it violates U.S. Olympic Committee bylaws, as well as its own.

“It’s outrageous,” said attorney Edward Williams, who represents the skaters who filed the complaints.

The skaters want head short-track coach Jae Su Chun and assistants Jun Hyung Yeo and Jimmy Jang banned from coaching or traveling with the team during the upcoming World Cup season because of the alleged abuse.

The athletes have made clear they do not want any contact with the coaches, having boycotted training under them in the federation’s national racing program to avoid the alleged abuse, even though that has meant having to pay for private coaches and ice time.

“Obviously, we take this very seriously,” said Tamara Castellano, a spokeswoman for U.S. Speedskating. “Our product is our athletes. If we don’t have them, we don’t have anything.”

For years, U.S. Speedskating has had a contentious relationship with its athletes, and a sprawling, 49-page initial grievance against the federation signed by 19 skaters on Aug. 30 alleges longstanding problems on a number of fronts — from federation governance and finances to administrative structure and communication with athletes.

It even says the federation cheated on its taxes, and alleges — without further explanation — that coaches engaged in “inappropriate sexually oriented behavior” with skaters and provided alcohol to underage athletes.

But the most serious charges center around allegations of verbal, physical and psychological abuse.

Skaters say the abuse was rampant and relentless and allowed to continue while federation officials who knew about it looked the other way and did nothing about it.

The initial grievance describes abuse by federation coaches that include Chun, Yeo and Jang, a former U.S. Speedskating developmental coach of the year who was fired as the Russian head coach last year because of “cruel training methods,” according to media reports.

But two subsequent complaints — one to the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee on Sept. 11, signed by 14 current short-trackers — further detail the alleged abuse and spotlight Chun as the main abuser.

Hired in 2007, Chun is a former head coach of the South Korean national team who had been widely credited with improving the U.S. team before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in Canada, where American short-trackers won six medals.

Apolo Anton Ohno won three of those medals, and Katherine Reutter two, but neither is among the skaters making the accusations.

However, bronze-medal winning relay members J.R. Celski, Travis Jayner, Jordan Malone, Allison Baver and Alyson Dudek are among the signatories. Another of them, former skater Eva Rodansky, wrote a book two years ago about her experience in speedskating that blasted the federation for mismanagement.

The skaters allege Chun screamed insults at them in front of federation staff members and other athletes. He also threw chairs and sports equipment in anger, they say, forced athletes to train despite verifiable injuries, humiliated athletes in public and denigrated women by calling them “fat” and “disgusting,” and telling them they should “stop eating.”

“You are worthless,” Chun allegedly told one skater.

In another instance, Chun allegedly threw a notebook at a skater and dumped water over his head. Another time, Chun allegedly slammed an athlete against the wall and hit him repeatedly for “disrespecting” the coach.

Chun allegedly ignored athletes, excluded them from team events, and imposed “punishment training” on skaters who could not keep up during practice sessions.

All told, Williams listed 22 instances of Chun allegedly humiliating or intimidating athletes.

Chun declined to comment, through a spokeswoman.

Williams also said he drove two skaters to the Taylorsville Police Department on Friday to file a complaint against Chun. A Unified Police Department spokesman confirmed that “an athlete” had reported “some threats that had occurred,” but that police were still investigating.

“I personally feel treated like a race horse who has been whipped into training and competing past my capacity,” one skater wrote anonymously in the initial complaint. Coaches and federation officials “are corrupt and unethical, and I dream of a day when they are exposed for their wrongdoings.”

Meanwhile, skater Levi Kirkpatrick separately charged U.S. Speedskating executive director Mark Green­wald on Friday with “code of conduct” violations under federation rules for allegedly threatening Kirkpatrick and failing to properly manage U.S. Speedskating.

That’s one of the same types of complaints that Kirkpatrick and the other skaters filed against Chun.

Castellano said the federation already has launched an investigation into the abuse charges, being conducted by attorneys from the international law firm White & Case working for free.

The attorneys are in town, she said, and working on the investigation at a time when most skaters are training at the Utah Olympic Oval and officials have arrived for a board of directors meeting over the weekend. That could speed the process, though Castellano emphasized that U.S. Speedskating is not forcing any athlete to talk or not talk to investigators.

“Our intent is to handle it in an unbiased and fair manner,” she said.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is aware of the complaints, Castellano said, and is working with U.S. Speedskating to determine how best to address the broad litany of allegations.

“These are obviously serious allegations, and we are working closely with speedskating to look into this and fully understand the issues in this case,” said USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky.

Williams has asked the USOC for prompt action on the coaches, with important qualifying races for the upcoming World Cup season scheduled for Sept. 26.

Athletes need to skate those races to qualify for World Cup races, where they earn points to qualify for federation funding and major international meets such as the Olympics and World Championships.

“Under these circumstances, it is unthinkable that the claimants would have to agree to again be subjected to this abuse as a condition of representing the United States” in the upcoming season, Williams wrote in his letter to the USOC.

Unless the coaches are removed, Williams said athletes “are being faced with the choice of again skating under and for a known abusive coach or ending their racing career.”

Tribune reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this report.

mcl@sltrib.com

Twitter: @MCLTribune