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Blades of Glory? U.S. Speedskaters poised for post-scandal revival
Speedskating » Federation overcoming scandals, suspensions.

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A dozen skaters accused then-national short-track coach Jae Su Chun of physical, verbal and mental abuse. Amid the allegations, skater Simon Cho admitted that he had tampered with the skate of a rival at the world championships, purportedly at the behest of Chun.

An investigation into the charges could not determine whether Chun actually ordered the sabotage, nor did it find any pattern of abuse.

At a glance

Medal counts

U.S. Speedskating has thrived at the last three Olympics, in particular:

Year Long-Track Short-Track Total

2010 4 6 10

2006 7 3 10

2002 8 3 11

1998 2 0 2

1994 3 4 7

1992* 2 2 4

*Short-track became an Olympic event in 1992.

U.S. speedskaters to watch

Shani Davis »  He’s the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 1,000, and the world-record holder in the 1,000 and 1,500. He’ll be a big favorite in both, and he also expects to compete in the 500, in what could be his last Olympics.

Heather Richardson »  She’s a former world sprint champion who could medal in all three of her races, the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters. She medaled at each distance during the World Cup season, after failing to medal in any of them at the 2010 Olympics.

Brittany Bowe »  She set the world record in the 1,000 during the World Cup season, and is a top medal threat alongside Richardson in the 1,000 and 1,500. She won medals in six of eight World Cup races at those distances this year, winning twice.

Brian Hansen » Always overshadowed by Davis in the middle distances, his best times of the season nevertheless rank among the top three in the world. He won silver in the relay in 2010, and stands poised to medal individually in either the 1,000 or 1,500 this time.

J.R. Celski »  He’s a former world champion, and the heir apparent to the retired Apolo Ohno. He medaled twice in the World Cup finale this season, and helped the relay team stand on the podium three times in four races. Pencil him in for at least one medal.

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Nevertheless, Chun and assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo were suspended and later forced to resign because they admitted knowing about the sabotage but did not immediately report it to U.S. Speedskating.

Cho was suspended until October by the International Skating Union.

The federation scrambled to replace the coaches, and the athletes split into bitter factions.

The accusing skaters already had left the federation’s national racing program for another training club to avoid Chun, while others — including Smith — left the federation program after Chun resigned, in order to continue training under him at an independent skating club in Salt Lake City.

The atmosphere was tense.

Even the long-track skaters, not directly involved in the tumult, acknowledged feeling its grim tug because they were friends with so many of the short-trackers.

"It didn’t matter that it wasn’t about us," long-track distance skater Patrick Meek said. "It was about our organization and about our brothers and sisters on the short track side, and that’s hard to hear."

Just as bad, the federation was some $750,000 in debt, and saw one of its former presidents and most accomplished athletes, four-time Olympian Andy Gabel, accused of sexual abuse by two former underage skaters.

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There has been no resolution to the federation’s investigation begun last year — Gabel apologized for "mistakes" during his career and resigned posts with the federation and the International Skating Union — but Morris said he expects a final report in the next couple of weeks.

In any case, the federation has started to turn things around.

It hired baseball executive and former speedskater Mike Plant to serve as president and overhaul its entire governance structure, giving athletes greater freedom and avoid meddling by its volunteer board, something widely viewed as one of the biggest problems over the years.

As a result, morale has slowly improved. Performances have flourished. And now, prospects for Sochi look positively golden.

"I think the tide has turned," Morris said. "It’s definitely safe to say that we feel very good about where we are."

In about six weeks, he might feel even better.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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