It was the biggest mistake of my life and one that I regret with all of my heart. —Simon Cho
KEARNS — The former head coach of U.S. short track speedskating issued a statement on Friday, denying the allegation that he told an athlete to tamper with the skates of a competitor in 2011.
Jae Su Chun resigned and accepted a suspension from U.S. speedskating through February 2014 on Thursday after being placed on leave in September. The head coach was placed on leave after 14 U.S. speedskaters accused him and his assistants of physical and emotional abuse in a grievance filed in August. Nine other U.S. skaters have issued a statement supporting Chun.
An independent investigation by the New York law firm of White and Case, which lasted nearly seven weeks, didn't find a pattern of abuse by Chun. The investigation also couldn't say definitively whether or not bronze Olympic medalist Simon Cho was told by Chun to tamper with the skates of a Canadian competitor.
Cho admitted to bending the blade of a skate belonging to Olivier Jean after Chun asked him to "mess" with the skates of the Canadian team three times.
"It was the biggest mistake of my life and one that I regret with all of my heart," said Cho, who still remains under investigation by U.S. speedskating for the incident. Cho said Chun asked him three separate times, and after the first time, he asked him in Korean, which changed the nature of the request.
"When he spoke in Korean, I knew he was serious," said Cho, who, like Chun, is also Korean. "Because at this point, not only was he coming to me as my coach, but as my Korean elder, and when an elder makes a request, it's very difficult to deny."
Chun said in his written statement Friday, however, that he learned of Cho's actions after he'd already bent the blade of Jean.
"I found out at the rink in Warsaw, Poland, in March 2011 that Simon Cho had tampered with Olivier Jean’s skate," Chun wrote. "I was in shock when I first heard of it and only came to terms with it on the ride back to the hotel. I chose then not to reveal Simon’s act because of Simon’s difficult family circumstances. I wanted to protect him and his family. I was wrong.
"I know that I chose Simon over other close friends and athletes of mine, including Olivier Jean. 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."
He went on to say he would not "dignify" the allegations of abuse with a response. He denied these more specifically in an earlier statement.
"I find abuse repugnant," Chun said on Friday. "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."
U.S. speedskating spokeswoman Tamara Castellano said a disciplinary investigation into Cho's actions is ongoing and a hearing will likely be held in the next week.
U.S. speedskating appointed interim coaches on Monday, including Stephen Gough, who competed in the 1994 Olympics for Canada, and Pat Wendland, a 30-year veteran coach who worked with athletes like Apolo Anton Ohno, who will travel with the U.S. team to its first World Cup competition in six days.
The resignation of Chun ends any internal disciplinary investigation by U.S. speedskating into him or allegations against him. He cannot coach U.S. athletes in an official capacity, but he's still free to coach athletes privately.