Speedskating: Nationals wrap up as scandal goes on
Kearns • Speedskater Simon Cho had planned to hold a press conference at the conclusion of the U.S. Short Track Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval on Sunday, to address allegations that he followed his coach's orders and tampered with a rival's skates at the world championships last year.
On the advice of his attorney, he canceled it.
But on a day when 10 skaters qualified for the team that will compete in four upcoming World Cup races, the 20-year-old Olympic bronze medalist still acknowledged that he expects to be punished for his role in a sprawling scandal surrounding national-team coach Jae Su Chun, accused of abuse by a dozen skaters who want him and his assistant fired.
"I don't expect to get out of this situation without any damage," Cho said. "My name already has been damaged, and I expect to be penalized for something, you know, whether it's a suspension, or a ban. I have to prepare myself for the consequences and take responsibility."
That suggests Cho privately has told an account that could spell the end for Chun, even though Cho declined to directly admit his guilt or assert his innocence when asked whether the explosive tampering charge is true.
"I'd rather wait until the arbitration report comes out," he said.
An arbitration hearing is set for Oct. 8 to resolve the case, if U.S. Speedskating does not act first, upon completion of an investigation by international law firm White & Case.
Cho did not qualify for the World Cup team. But Jeff Simon did, capping a triumphant return from nearly two years of agonizing back problems.
Yet the three-time world bronze medalist said he will turn down his spot on the World Cup team if U.S. Speedskating does not remove Chun and assistant Jun Hyung Yeo, amid the allegations that they verbally, mentally and physically abused skaters.
"I want to go," Simon said. "I want to compete. â¦ But unfortunately, I can't say that I would do that if the organization doesn't want to implement what is right and what is proper for the athletes."
Only five skaters among the 12 who signed onto complaints about Chun and Yeo qualified for the World Cup team with their performances here, and Simon he allegedly had water and a notebook thrown at him, and was forced him to practice with a serious back injury was the only one to say that he would stay home if the accused coaches remain.
Travis Jayner and Kyle Carr said they would wait to make a decision, Aly Dudek refused to discuss the topic at all, and J.R. Celski acknowledged he will compete, no matter what.
"Yes, I'm going," said Celski, the Olympic bronze medalist who won the overall men's title. "I think the most important thing this season for me and the team is to have experience in international competition."
Skaters have until Oct. 7 to declare their intentions to U.S. Speedskating, but can reclaim declined spots if Chun and Yeo are later dismissed following the arbitration hearing. A selection committee will choose one more man and woman to fill out the 12-member roster.
Jessica Smith won the women's title, easily.
The world silver medalist won five of the eight races contested over the four days of competition, dominating the field in the absence of two-time Olympic medalist Katherine Reutter, who's recovering from hip surgery.
Smith is among the skaters who have sided with Chun, creating a divisive split within the national team.
While the skaters who accused Chun all have left to train with the so-called FAST club program based at the oval four of the top five men here were representing FAST, in fact others have remained in national program and don't want their coaches to leave.
"Of course," Smith said. "There's no lie there. Of course I'm going to be upset if my support staff is taken away from me."
But the skaters who have accused the coaches insist the federation must get rid of them.
"I really hope U.S. Speedskating makes right decision in that regard," said Olympic bronze medalist Allison Baver. "Whether or not Jae Su is found guilty, I guess, of the accusations â¦ it still presents a disruption within the team, regardless."
Indeed, the disruption is something almost every skater wishes would go away. Jordan Malone said it's making enemies out of friends, and Emily Scott said, "I just want to be a team again."
Scott was among the other athletes to qualify for the World Cup team, along with Sarah Chen, Lana Gehring and Chris Creveling.
Storylines World Cup qualifiers
R At the scandal-plagued U.S. Short Track Championships in Kearns, 10 skaters qualify to represent the U.S. in World Cup races. • Qualifier Jeff Simon says he will not compete in the World Cup races unless U.S. Speedskating fires its coaches.