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Ex-short-track coach says he covered up sabotage to help skater

Published October 12, 2012 6:38 pm

Speedskating • Jae Su Chun admits he made a mistake in aiding Simon Cho.
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The short-track coach who resigned from U.S. Speedskating amid scandalous allegations of abuse and sabotage said Friday he made a mistake by covering up skate-tampering in a misguided effort to help one of his skaters.

Jae Su Chun implied in a statement that he did not order skater Simon Cho to tamper with the skate of a Canadian rival at the world championships last year in Warsaw, Poland, as Cho and others had alleged.

Instead, Chun said he was "shocked" to learn about the incident after it took place, and chose not to report it because of Cho's "difficult family circumstances."

"I wanted to protect him and his family," Chun said. "I was wrong. ... I know I chose Simon Cho over my own principles. As a coach and role model, I know what is required of me, but sometimes as a human being, it is not so easy to follow what is cold and hard and written on paper, when there is a living, breathing, very confused young man in front of you."

It's not clear to what family circumstances Chun was referring. U.S. Speedskating said it has begun a process or disciplining Cho, who has said he expects to be suspended or banned.

An independent investigation by law firm White & Case did not conclude whether Chun actually ordered the tampering, according to the summary presented by attorneys last week. But the coach did acknowledge not reporting it, leading to his resignation on Thursday along with former assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo, who also knew of the incident but did not report it. In so doing, both men violated the federation's code of conduct, and could have been fired if they had not resigned.

Both men also accepted suspensions from U.S. Speedskating that bar them from coaching in any clubs or events sanctioned by the federation until the end of February, 2014 — beyond the conclusion of the Sochi Olympics in Russia. They could conceivably work for other countries, though.

An attorney for Cho did not respond directly to questions about the "family circumstances." But John Wunderli said that when the full investigative report is released, "we expect it will contain statements by many skaters about coach Chun's behavior in Warsaw that are consistent with what Simon has said and inconsistent with coach Chun's statement."

Chun said in his statement that he would not dignify the allegations of abuse with a response.

A dozen skaters had charged him with physical and emotional abuse during his reign as coach, but investigators said they could not conclude that there was a "pattern of abuse."

"I find abuse repugnant," Chun said. "Anyone who speaks with my athletes in America, Canada and Korea in detail, even some of the complainants, and reads any of the articles about me in the Korean press over the last decade will know why I say this."

Chun also wrote passionately about his love for the sport, and about letting down Olivier Jean — the skater whom he once coached, whose skate Cho sabotaged in order to keep him from skating a relay final at the world championships.

"During my time coaching him, I came to love him and the dynamic way he skates on the ice," Chun said. "I hope after I visit with him, that I may be close to him again. I apologize to him for not saying anything during this difficult period. It was at the advice of my attorneys who worried for my legal liability and also my good friends who said that the larger apology must be made in person. They said I had to trust to our prior relationship to preserve whatever goodwill Olivier Jean may have for me. I hope they are right."

Short-track speedskating is a "marvelous thing to do," Chun concluded. "It is a marvelous thing to watch. It is marvelous to hear the blades on the ice when the skaters go by. If you first started following short-track speedskating because of my misfortune, I would urge you to go watch a meet in person and to bring your son or daughter. They may perhaps fall in love with the sport the way I and all the athletes I have trained over the years have."

mcl@sltrib.com