Speedskating: Coaching controversy divides U.S. squad

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 7:49 p.m. MDT

Speedskaters practice Monday at the Utah Olympic Oval in preparation for this week's U.S. Short Track Championships.

Associated Press

KEARNS — Competing on a split team, with controversy swirling around U.S. Short Track Speedskating coaches accused of abuse, has created an awkward atmosphere at the Utah Olympic Oval, one skater said Monday.

"Strange really isn't the word," said Emily Scott, who is competing this week for the FAST Team at the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships. "It's uncomfortable at times, but this is my career, and I have to focus on it and focus on what's important for myself."

Scott is part of a group of short track skaters who pulled away from the U.S. National racing program.

Yet while she was part of an initial grievance against U.S. Speedskating, she is not part of a demand for arbitration that seeks to have Jae Su Chun and two assistants barred from coaching the U.S. team at the fall World Cup events and beyond.

"I've separated myself," Scott said Monday of leaving the national racing program. "Everyone kind of left for their own reasons. I wasn't really enjoying myself and wanted a better environment. Now I love skating again."

Fourteen current members of the national team, including 2010 Olympic medalists Allison Baver, J.R. Celski, Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone, initially signed a grievance alleging they were abused verbally, physically and psychologically by Chun.

The attorney representing them maintains they will not skate for Chun or his assistants and would end their careers rather than do so.

Nine other skaters, including Olympic medalist and 2012 U.S. champion Lana Gehring, and national team members Kimberly Derrick and Jessica Smith have signed a counter statement backing Chun and assistant Jun Hyung Yeo.

Yeo has taken over coaching the national program after U.S. Speedskating placed Chun on administrative leave while an independent law firm investigates the abuse complaints and other allegations.

Scott was the only member of either group willing to talk Monday.

The demand for arbitration claims Chun also was the mastermind of an incident at the 2011 World Championships in which short track skater Simon Cho is accused of tampering with the skate of a Canadian athlete.

Chun has denied the abuse accusations and on Monday, his attorney in the arbitration, Russell Fericks, denied Chun had any role in the skate tampering.

Cho has declined to comment about the tampering incident but is competing this week with the U.S. National racing program.

Scott, who was willing to talk before practice Monday in the Salt Lake City suburb, said competitors are trying to focus on the upcoming competition, which will determine the fall World Cup team.

But it is awkward.

While one group is finishing its on-ice work, the other is just starting. Their paths inevitably cross.

"We say our hellos and I think they are genuine," Scott said. "It's an unfortunate situation. Some people have taken sides, unfortunately. I speak for myself. I don't have hate for anybody. They are my teammates and I hope they'll be my teammates in the future."

She said that includes Cho.

Scott, a 23-year-old former inline skater, has only been a short track skater for four years and said she didn't really work with Chun, only Yeo.

For now, Yeo is in charge of the national racing program and the FAST Team is led by Alex Izykowski and Anthony Barthell.

An arbitration hearing is set for Oct. 3-5 in Salt Lake City. The attorney who represents the skaters who filed the grievance and a complaint with the U.S. Olympic Committee said he intends to call Cho as a witness.

Scott said she remains optimistic the controversy will be resolved.

"No matter what, through everything, we always do perform and I think we're going to overcome this," Scott said.

The controversy has been brewing for months. The code of conduct complaint accuses Chun of slamming an athlete against a wall and repeatedly hitting him, throwing bottles and chairs at skaters and repeatedly telling female skaters they were "fat" and "disgusting."

An initial grievance signed by 19 skaters on Aug. 30 alleged longstanding problems — from federation governance and finances to administrative structure. It even claimed the federation cheated on its taxes.

Skater Levi Kirkpatrick separately accused U.S. Speedskating executive director Mark Greenwald of "code of conduct" violations for threatening Kirkpatrick and failing to properly manage the program.

But the most serious allegations are against Chun, the former head coach of the South Korea national team hired in 2007 and credited with improving the U.S. team before the Vancouver Games, where short track skaters led by Apolo Anton Ohno and Katherine Reutter won six medals.

Neither Ohno nor Reutter signed the complaints. Ohno has not said whether he plans to come back for a fourth Olympics and Reutter is recovering from hip surgery and is not competing this week.

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