Alone in an empty locker room, Simon Cho had only seconds to carry out what he believed was his coach’s order.
The short-track speedskater grabbed the closest skate he saw during a break at the world championships last year in Poland, knowing it belonged to a Canadian rival, and quickly bent it beyond repair with a tool usually used to fix skates.
"It was the biggest mistake of my life," Cho said.
The 20-year-old, who grew up in suburban Baltimore and won a bronze medal in the relay at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics after living and training in Utah, confessed to and apologized for the sabotage at a press conference Friday at his attorney’s office in downtown Salt Lake City. The confession followed weeks of speculation stemming from abuse allegations leveled against national-team coach Jae Su Chun.
But just three hours later, U.S. Speedskating held a press conference of its own at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, where attorneys from international law firm White & Case said their seven-week investigation into the allegations could not determine whether Chun actually ordered the tampering.
They also found "no pattern" of physical or emotional abuse by Chun.
However, the investigators did say that Chun and assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo admitted knowing about the tampering "immediately" and did not report it to U.S. Speedskating.
For that, the federation suspended Yeo — Chun already was on suspension during the investigation — and began a search for a coach to lead its team into upcoming World Cup races in Canada in two weeks.
It also prepared to begin further disciplinary proceedings against Cho, Chun and Yeo, which could result in severe sanctions, including dismissal.
Officials offered no timetable for that process, though, and declined several times to answer questions in more detail, citing an arbitrator’s ruling that they not release the full investigation.
An arbitration is scheduled Nov. 1, if the case is not resolved by then.
"We are shocked and disappointed by Simon’s actions," federation spokeswoman Tamara Castellano said. "We do not, under any circumstance, support, condone or tolerate this kind of behavior."
Even Cho would agree.
He knew what he was doing was wrong, he said, but also felt he simply could not deny his coach — a fellow native Korean who brought the weight of their shared Asian culture to bear for an act of sabotage that could ruin both of their careers.
Three times, Chun asked him to vandalize the skates, Cho said — twice in English and in the presence of a teammate, and the third time in Korean, when Cho was alone.
"When he spoke in Korean, I knew that he was very serious," Cho said. "At this point, not only was he coming to me as my coach, but as my Korean elder. And in the Asian culture, when an elder asks you to do something, or makes a request, it’s very difficult to deny."
And Cho did not deny it.
Cho said Chun "was angry and believed that the Canadians aided another team in order for us to be eliminated" from the relay competition. He wanted the Canadians punished, Cho said.
"The repetitiveness and aggressiveness of how he came at me was very intimidating," Cho said. "I did feel threatened and intimidated."
The Americans and Canadians shared a locker room at the arena, Cho said, and it was common for equipment to be left unsecured. That made it easy for Cho to tamper with the skates, which belonged to skater Olivier Jean.
Jean was not able to skate the relay final, leaving his Canadian teammates a man short and unable to contend for gold. They finished third.Next Page >
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