Quantcast

Accused short-track coaches resign from U.S. Speedskating

Published October 12, 2012 11:12 am

Speedskating • A probe showed the head coach and his assistant knew about incident of skate tampering.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two national short-track coaches resigned under pressure from U.S. Speedskating on Thursday, six days after an independent investigation revealed they knew about a shocking skate-tampering incident last year but failed to report it.

The resignation of head coach Jae Su Chun and assistant Jun Hyung Yeo is expected to mostly put to rest complaints filed by a dozen skaters who alleged that Chun and Yeo abused them — though far-ranging grievances about the federation and its governance are still on the table and have yet to be addressed.

"We're going to continue with the grievance" against U.S. Speedskating, said Edward Williams, the attorney for the skaters who accused the coaches. The federation has "neither the managerial nor financial capability to carry out their obligations. ... We want to reform this national governing body."

Federation officials said in a two-sentence statement that the resignations were effective immediately — shortly after the resignations were announced, a scheduled arbitration hearing in the case was canceled — and that both coaches accepted suspensions from U.S. Speedskating through February 2014, beyond the conclusion of the Sochi Olympics in Russia.

That means Chun and Yeo cannot coach in any program or event sanctioned by U.S. Speedskating in that time, though they could take jobs coaching another nation, unless the International Skating Union sanctions them in some way.

It's not known whether the skaters who filed the complaints against Chun and Yeo will return to the federation's national racing program now, after leaving it last summer to avoid the alleged abuse and train instead with the FAST club program that's also based at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

Skaters within the federation have been sharply divided by what happened — nine of them signed a statement defending Chun and blasting the complainers — and there are hard feelings on both sides of the dispute.

But several days before the resignations, when Chun and Yeo were still employed but under suspension, the federation announced that Pat Went- land and Stephen Gough will coach the skaters in the national racing program.

Wentland is a former three-time national champion and national-team coach — he's a member of the Speedskating Hall of Fame — who tutored legendary short-tracker Apolo Anton Ohno in his youth, while Gough competed for Canada at the 1994 Lillehammer Games in Norway and coached the Canadians through the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where they won five medals.

Wentland and Gough also will travel with the skaters who have qualified to race at World Cup events in Canada later this month, and in China and Japan later in the season — a group comprising skaters from both sides of the dispute.

All of the athletes who qualified for spots at the World Cup races have accepted the new coaches, the federation said, after several considered declining their spots if Chun and Yeo had remained.

The first World Cup races of the season are Oct. 19-21 in Calgary and Oct. 26-28 in Montreal.

Chun stood accused not only of abuse, but of ordering skater Simon Cho to tamper with the skates of Canadian rival Olivier Jean at the world championships in Poland last year. Jean was on the Olympic gold-medal-winning relay team coached by Gough.

Cho admitted his role in the sabotage and said Chun made him do it, because Chun was angry that the Canadians had worked with another team to eliminate the Americans in a relay heat.

Attorneys from the international law firm White & Case, however, said last Friday that despite a seven-week investigation in which they interviewed about three dozen witnesses, they could not determine whether Chun actually ordered the act.

They did say Chun admitted knowing about it "immediately after it took place," and told Yeo on their way back to the team hotel.

Neither reported it to anybody, the investigators said.

The investigators also said they did not find a "pattern of abuse" by the coaches, either physical or emotional, though they left the door open for specific claims of abuse by pointedly noting that their report "is not an exoneration of the coaching methods."

They also described a culture of distrust and dysfunction within the federation.

"There was general perception among the skaters that no one at U.S. Speedskating would listen to their concerns," attorney Greg Little said, "much less act on them."

U.S. Speedskating said it has begun pursuing disciplinary action against Cho, after the skater admitted tampering with the skate, and said a hearing before its appeals commission will be held "soon."

Cho has said he expects to be suspended or banned.

It's not clear how the saga will proceed from here.

The aggrieved skaters alleged in their initial formal grievance that a wide variety of federation officials and board members, including executive director Mark Greenwald, knew of the alleged coaching abuse and did nothing to stop it, and that U.S. Speedskating does not meet the criteria established by the U.S. Olympic Committee to be recognized as the national governing body for the sport.

The skaters also charged the nonprofit federation with cheating on its taxes, by overstating its assets to promote the appearance of fiscal health, while at the same time failing to provide skaters in the national racing program suitable living expenses or time to hold meaningful jobs.

But the federation has not publicly addressed those allegations, and it's not clear when it will attempt to deal with them.

Attorneys for Chun and Yeo could not be reached for comment.

mcl@sltrib.com