Amy Donaldson: Can new coach Guy Thibault heal old wounds on U.S. Short Track Speedskating Team?

Published: Sunday, Dec. 23 2012 8:40 p.m. MST

Meanwhile, members of the FAST team make up the bulk of the newly formed World Cup and world championship squad, including newly crowned U.S. men's champion J.R. Celski. Three other men train with the FAST team, as well as two of the women. One other woman and two other men train with the national team and will now be coached directly by Thibault.

The problems facing Thibault are not just logistics, like how to get three factions together to practice a relay race. The problems are how to heal the wounds left by allegations that were never really put to rest.

The investigation couldn't prove the allegations were true, but the final report did cast Chun's methods in a negative light. The investigation left so much unsaid and undecided, that both sides still feel wounded.

World Cup skater Jeff Simon blames Chun for a devastating back injury that cost him another precious season, while Gehring claims Chun's methods are what helped her sweep this weekend's races.

While she wants to see her coach in the stands, those who felt abused by him are unsettled by his presence. Gehring said the situation is so sensitive she doesn't even dare use the word "push" in describing how he helps her become a better athlete.

But somehow Thibault believes he can overcome this situation riddled with distrust, hurt feelings and deep-seeded animosity.

Whether or not he can unite the three groups behind a common goal of U.S. skating success is the gold medal question.

When asked if the controversy almost kept him from applying for the job, he doesn't hesitate.

"Absolutely," he said. "In the last five or six years, U.S. Speedskating has had so much politics involved, and that's not me. I'm more with the athletes, helping them with the ice, not the bylaws."

He said he's had experience bringing people together. He believes he can do it again.

"I am hoping I have the respect of these guys," he said. "That's part of what made me apply."

Thibault has lived in Salt Lake City since the 2002 Olympic Games. His two children are now students at the University of Utah and he knows most of the people involved in U.S. Speedskating.

It was the athletes and their potential, as well as the lure of coaching again that convinced him to seek the job, in spite of the obstacles that now litter his path.

"I believe in the new direction that U.S. Speedskating is trying to go," he said. "There are really three teams here. The four or five athletes that Steve was working with (on the national team); the FAST program and the Salt Lake International group. I respect that they've been working with their coaches. I'm not here to fight them."

He said some of the issues the athletes faced were reason enough not to trust the national team. Under their private coaches, they had consistency, security and organization. Sadly, the national team hasn't always offered that same stability.

He promises that is changing, and said he's started simply by listening.

"My door is always open," he said.

He will seek compromises with each group in trying to find a way to train as a team — even if its just a couple of times a week. He believes that will happen because, despite their massive, maybe insurmountable differences, they do share one important common goal.

"I think we all want the same thing," he said. "We want the best skaters at the Olympics."

And they want them, all of them, wearing red, white and blue.

Twitter: adonsports

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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