KEARNS — With the World Cup qualifying races for short track speed skating just two weeks away, the sport and its governing body was rocked by allegations of abuse against the national team's head coach and two assistants.
Fourteen current and five former speedskaters filed a grievance against U.S. Speedskating on Aug. 30. The complaint accuses Jae Su Chun and two of his assistants of verbal, physical and psychological abuse.
Chun issued a statement defending himself and his fellow coaches, but hours later, the U.S. Speedskating Board of Directors voted to place him on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
In that statement, Chun denied the allegations and asked that the names of his assistants be removed from the complaint as no specific allegations were outlined against them.
U.S. Speedskating officials answered questions about the complaint, the investigation and why they chose to retain one of the assistants named in the complaint as an interim head coach heading into the World Cup season.
"Mr. (Jimmy) Jang is not a coach with U.S. Speedskating," said Tamara Castellano, spokeswoman for U.S. Speedskating, of one of the coaches named in the grievance. "He was here on an interim basis filling in while someone was on vacation. Jun (Hyung Yeo) was named in the grievance but there was no specific claim made against him and so for that reason it is U.S.S. decision that for the stability of the program and because athletes in the National Racing Program know him and are comfortable with him, he will be coaching while Mr. Chun is on leave."
U.S. Speedskating officials asked the law firm of White and Case to investigate the allegations made in the complaint.
"They are conducting a fair and impartial investigation and U.S. Speedskating will respect their findings and recommendations," said Castellano. "Once the investigation is complete, U.S. Speedskating will take steps to remedy any issues uncovered in the investigation."
Officials said there is no timeline on how long an investigation will take, and they're not sure it will conclude before the World Cup qualifying event on Sept. 27.
"The most important thing is that they do a thorough job," said Steve Smith, general counsel for U.S. Speedskating.
Reporters questioned how athletes could be comfortable with one of the men accused in the complaint of misconduct at the helm of the program at such a critical time.
Castellano said the athletes who filed the grievance are in what they refer to as the FAST program and not training with the U.S. Speedskating's national racing program and will not have to deal with Jun. Athletes do not have to train with the national team to make the World Cup team.
But if those skaters make the World Cup team, it's possible they would be subject to Jun's coaching, something that could be problematic for officials.
"There are a total of 12 (6 men, 6 women) on the short track World Cup team," Castellano said. "Ten are determined by the results of the fall trials and two are discretionary picks. Discretionary picks are determined by the short track selection committee."
In his statement, Chun flatly denied providing alcohol to minors or sexually harassing any athlete. He did admit to pushing an athlete during a disagreement, but said, "I later apologized to him. We resolved the conflict amicably and (he) certainly was not injured. In fact, he won several medals the next day at the World Championships."
He also asked that the assistants be dropped from the grievance as there were not specific allegations against either man in the complaint.
Practices have been closed to the public and skaters were admonished in an email not to talk to reporters.
"I'm sure not happy someone is leaking my internal emails," said Castellano when read a portion of the email by a reporter. "We are trying to allow the skaters the opportunity to focus on the upcoming trials. This competition is very important to them as it is the qualifying competition for the short track World Cup team. We are trying to allow them the opportunity to focus on performance and to stay out of the media frenzy."