An assistant coach whom U.S. Speedskating athletes asked to be banned from coaching or traveling with the team because of alleged abuse has been put in charge of the program while its head coach is suspended during an investigation of the charges.
Assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo was named to coach the short-track skaters, in the absence of accused head coach Jae Su Chun.
The federation announced the decision in a conference call with reporters on Monday, with spokeswoman Tamara Castellano saying U.S. Speedskating chose Yeo “for the stability of the program” and because there were “no specific claims made against him” in a series of grievances filed recently by 14 active short-track skaters.
Indeed, the skaters leveled detailed accusations against only Chun, who on Sunday professed his innocence in a statement and was suspended just hours later.
However, in a Sept. 11 letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the skaters asked that both men — along with associate Jimmy Jang — be barred from coaching or traveling with the team during the upcoming World Cup season.
The skaters also accused all three men of abuse, generally, in their initial grievance Aug. 30.
Their attorney, Edward Williams, said he should have provided more detailed charges against Yeo and Jang in his filings, if U.S Speedskating was going to presume that those men were not accused as seriously as Chun.
“I have to broaden the brush,” he said.
Williams said he plans to file Tuesday for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association, to seek a resolution before the start of qualifying races Sept. 27 at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns to determine which skaters will compete in the upcoming World Cup competitions.
The international law firm White & Case has been investigating the allegations since early August, working for free as part of a program with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
But speedskating officials said they don’t know when the inquiry will be finished.
“The most important thing is that they do a thorough job,” said Steve Smith, general counsel for U.S. Speedskating.
Williams said the investigation should have been done by now, and he was surprised and “very disappointed” that U.S. Speedskating wasn’t calling its press conference Monday to announce the removal of the coaches.
He said arbitration will ensure that a resolution is reached before the qualifying races at the U.S. Short-Track Speedskating Championships.
All of the skaters who filed the complaints have been boycotting U.S. Speedskating’s national training program because of the alleged abuse, and Williams said none of them will return to it with Yeo in charge. They have been training instead with private coaches in the so-called FAST program at the Oval, which is separate from the national training program.
Skaters do not have to be training with the national team in order to compete in the upcoming qualifying races.
Williams said he’s especially concerned about what will happen if some of his clients qualify for the World Cup teams, and have to travel abroad with Yeo still in place as their national-team coach.
In the letter to the USOC, Williams called the possibility “unthinkable.”
Yeo (or Chun) could play a role in determining the rosters for the World Cup events, too.
Five men and five women will earn places on the team for the first four World Cup races of the season — in Calgary, Montreal, Nagoya, Japan, and Shanghai — based on points won in the qualifying races, but one other man and woman will be chosen by a selection committee that typically includes the coach.
Castellano said it’s not clear whether that will change, given the circumstances.
She also said that all of the skaters who have remained in the national training program are comfortable with Yeo as the coach — though one journalist asked her why she was trying to “muzzle” the skaters, referring to an email in which Castellano urged the skaters not to speak with reporters.
“We are trying to allow the skaters the opportunity to focus on upcoming trials,” she said. “I cannot underscore enough … how important these trials are. They are to name the World Cup team, and that’s a very big deal for our athletes. So we are trying to allow them the opportunity to make sure they’re able to focus on their performance and to sort of stay out of this media frenzy that’s ensued.”
Castellano clarified that Jang is not an assistant coach with the national team, even though he was named in the complaints.
She said Jang, a former U.S. Speedskating developmental coach of the year who was fired as Russia’s head coach last year for what the Russians called “cruel” training methods, “was here on interim basis while somebody was on vacation.”
He was around the skaters for less than 30 days, she said.
Williams said that “feeds into” his clients’ wide-ranging grievance with the federation, because it illustrates that executive director Mark Greenwald and the board of directors have ceded managerial authority to Chun and had no awareness or control over who was working with the athletes.