Lana Gehring, J.R. Celski dominate at U.S. Short Track Speedskating Championships
KEARNS — Lana Gehring was so discouraged and drained, she decided to skip the fourth World Cup of the season in early December to seek help and guidance from the coach who was at the center of a controversy that fractured the U.S. Short Track Speedskating Team.
"The whole entire drama of this season, just mentally and physically, it tore me down," said Gehring, who dominated the second day of the U.S. Short Track Speedskating Championships in Kearns with a win in the 500 meters and the 1500 meters, essentially securing her spot on the World Cup and World Championship teams.
Gehring said her success Friday, after a season of struggling, is evidence of how effective former U.S. head coach Jae Su Chun's methods really are.
"I need that coach to literally give me direction, to make me my best," she said. "I think he does that. I think me being back with him is proof of that."
In early fall, Chun was suspended when a group of U.S. athletes accused him and his assistants of physical, emotional and mental abuse. An investigation by a New York law firm eventually found no evidence to support the allegations. But Chun resigned and was banned by U.S. Speedskating for not reporting an incident in which Olympian Simon Cho admitted to bending the skate of a Canadian competitor at the world championships.
Cho said Chun badgered him until he complied with the request, an allegation Chun has denied. But both Chun and his assistant, Jun Hyung Yeo, admitted that once they found out about the tampering, they failed to report it. U.S. Speedskating officials banned both men from coaching until after February 2014.
Cho is still being investigated by both U.S. Speedskating and the sport's international governing body, and he did not participate in this weekend's championships.
Friday's other dominant performance came from J.R. Celski, also a 2010 Olympian who trains with the FAST program made up of athletes who either alleged abuse by Chun or supported those who did. His view of Chun's methods may be different, but Celski echoed Gehring's sentiments that this season has been draining and difficult for most of the athletes.
"This year presented a lot of challenges to all of us American skaters," said Celski, who won both races despite struggling to recover from a severe concussion sustained in Japan two weeks ago. "I hope we get things figured out, and I think we're taking steps in that direction. I think the right people are being put in place."
He said it was difficult at the first trials afterward as there was tension between the factions and expectations that one group should outperform the other.
Now that Guy Thibault, a former Canadian Olympic skier and longtime coach, has been hired to lead the U.S. team, Celski hopes he will find a way to unite the factions before the world championships and next year's Olympic Games.
"We all know that we have a common goal," he said, "And the only way to accomplish it is to push each other and be supportive. I really hope we can push ourselves to be that team again."
Thibault, who moved to Utah in 2002 and never left, said he hopes to be able to work with the individual coaches and athletes to heal the team. He said he knows and respects the coaches involved and believes they understand what he needs to do as the U.S. team's head coach.
"I am hoping I have the respect of these guys," he said. "I'm not here to fight them. ... My job is not to force them, but to bring them together. I think we all want the same thing and that's to have the best skaters at the Olympics."
Logistics will be interesting for the new coach, who is still more of an observer than a leader after being hired Dec. 4.
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