Kearns • Under a cloud of controversy surrounding allegations of coaching abuse, short-track speedskaters will begin racing for national titles and places on the World Cup team at the U.S. Short-Track Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval on Thursday.
Two-time Olympic medalist Katherine Reutter is not expected to compete, however, after having two hip surgeries in recent months.
The team’s marquee skater is one of the few not embroiled in the scandal surrounding explosive allegations that coach Jae Su Chun abused skaters within U.S. Speedskating. Fourteen skaters recently signed a series of complaints against Chun, while nine others issued a statement supporting him and blasting the plaintiffs.
The coach has been suspended while an international law firm investigates the charges, and Reutter has not publicly taken sides in the dispute.
The rest of the skaters, however, will be competing against each other in a fast-and-furious sport already known for its frenzied pace and wild crashes.
They’re fighting for a dozen places — six men and six women — on the U.S. teams that will compete in the first four World Cup races of the upcoming season. Five men and five women will earn spots based solely on results of the races this week, while a selection committee from U.S. Speedskating will pick the final two members of the team.
It’s not clear whether Chun will attend the event.
Though he has been suspended, the races are free and open to the public, and Chun wants to retain his job as head short-track coach.
But the aggrieved skaters want him and assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo banned from coaching or traveling with the team during the World Cup season, because of the alleged abuse.
Yeo has been named interim coach while Chun is suspended.
An attorney for Chun could not be reached for comment, but an attorney for the skaters and officials at U.S. Speedskating said he has filed a motion to dismiss a demand for arbitration in the case.
Federation spokeswoman Tamara Castellano said the motion argues that because qualified skaters are permitted to compete in the U.S. Short-Track Championships this week under any coach they choose, they are not being denied the “opportunity to participate” as the demand for arbitration contends.
Speedskating officials have until Wednesday to respond to the motion.
An arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Oct. 3-5 in Salt Lake City, to resolve the charges if the investigation and U.S. Speedskating had not done so by then.
But Ed Williams, the attorney for the skaters who made the complaints against Chun, said the hearing has been pushed back to Oct. 8 because “there’s too much to do” to hold it earlier.
In deference to the dispute, Castellano said the federation had changed a rule to allow skaters who qualify for the World Cup team to wait seven days before declaring if they intend to compete on it, in order to give them a chance to learn the outcome of the case and find out who the coaches will be.
Usually, they have one hour.
But then the arbitration date was pushed back, and Castellano said the federation can’t change its deadline again without an in-person board meeting, and none will be held in the next two weeks.
So instead, she said U.S. Speedskating will not immediately fill any spots on the World Cup team that skaters decline, and allow skaters to learn the outcome of the arbitration before then deciding if they want to reclaim their places.
Oh, and the actual competition?
After time trials on Thursday, athletes will race twice at each of three distances — 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters — over the next three days.
The combined time of both races will determine the winners at each distance, and those winners will earn automatic spots on the World Cup team. Most of the rest of the roster will be filled out based on overall points earned throughout the competition, with the final two spots filled at the discretion of the selection committee.
U.S. Short-Track Championships
Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns
Thursday • Nine-lap time trial, 10 a.m.
Four-lap time trial, 1:50 p.m.
Friday • Qualifying in 1,500 and 500, 10:30 a.m.
Final rounds in 1,500 and 500, 1 p.m.
Saturday • Qualifying in 1,000 and 1,500, 10:30 a.m.
Final rounds in 1,000 and 1,500, 1 p.m.
Sunday • Qualifying in 500 and 1,000, 9:30 a.m.
Final rounds in 500 and 1,000, noon