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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.

First Published Sep 14 2012 12:48 pm • Last Updated Dec 25 2012 11:32 pm

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.

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"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.

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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.

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