KEARNS, Utah (Reuters) - United States Speedskating officials suspended a second coach on Friday and the organisation’s attorney said disciplinary action was pending against both men and an American Olympic competitor who admitted sabotaging a competitor’s equipment.
The scandal, which has revealed a deep division in America’s elite skaters, became even murkier on Friday when Simon Cho confessed to tampering with a Canadian rival’s skate at last year’s world team short-track championships in Poland.
Cho apologised for his actions and said he was following the orders of his coach Chun Jae-su, who is currently under suspension while being investigated following complaints about his training methods.
Chun denies the allegations against him and the investigators said there was no concrete evidence to prove that Chun ordered Cho to sabotage the equipment because they had received three different accounts of what happened.
“As to who said what to whom and why and what the motivating factors were, we cannot say,” investigating attorney Greg Little told a news conference in Utah.
“And we do not believe there is sufficient evidence at this point to conclude that coach Jae Su Chun directed Simon Cho to tamper with the skates.”
However, U.S. speedskating attorney Steve Smith said Chun would face disciplinary action over the incident after he admitted that he knew about Cho’s actions but failed to report it.
Assistant coach Yeo Jun-hyung, who was named as interim coach when Chun was suspended, also admitted he knew what Cho had done so was also stood down and told that he too would face disciplinary action for failing to report it.
“The conduct at issue is repugnant and antithetical to the values of the Olympic Movement and inconsistent with Team USA’s commitment to fair play,” United States Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement.
“We regret that an American athlete was involved, and intend to actively engage with US Speedskating to ensure that appropriate action is taken.”
The skate that Cho damaged belonged to Canada’s Olivier Jean. The Canadian was unable to compete in the 5,000 metres relay final because the blade had been bent out of shape and Canada, with only three skaters instead of the permissible four, finished last.
“I am deeply embarrassed and sad to confirm certain allegations that have been made in the arbitration demand brought by a group of my fellow speed skaters against US Speedskating and the coaches,” said Cho, who also faces disciplinary action.
“It was the biggest mistake of my life and one that I regret with all my heart.”
Ian Moss, the chief executive of Speed Skating Canada, said Olivier had accepted Cho’s apology.
“Simon Cho showed respect and humility today in admitting to his mistake, and Speed Skating Canada appreciates that he has come forward and that he apologised to Olivier last night in a phone call,” Moss said in a statement.
The sabotage allegation was just one of a handful of incidents involving Chun that are being investigated by an independent New York law firm.
Nineteen skaters, including five Olympic medalists, filed a grievance complaint about Chun, claiming verbal, physical and psychological abuse.
The complaints include accusations that he once slammed a skater against a wall and that he repeatedly insulted female skaters by telling them they were “fat” and that he also forced other skaters to train while they were recovering from injuries.
Chun, formerly coached the South Korean national team before being recruited by U.S. speedskating in 2007, has repeatedly denied the accusations against them.
Little said the conflicting evidence did not support the complaints, although it was clear there were deep divisions about Chun’s tough training methods.
“It’s also important to recognise that Coach Jae Su generated very, very strong emotional reactions,” Little said.
“There are a large number of skaters who today still strongly support Coach Chun and his methods. There are also a large number of skaters who are disappointed in his methods.”
The investigators made three trips to Utah and conducted nearly 40 interviews, with competitors, staff, family members and others.
They also reviewed email and social media conversations, along with speedskating policy manuals and other documents.
Little said the program was going through a period of significant change even though there was reduced funding and a lot of competitors were unhappy, but the claims of physical abuse could not be substantiated.
“I want to emphasize that we are not questioning in any way the skaters who made those allegations and the sincerity with which they made them.”
Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Julian Linden