Sabotage Prompts Two-Year Bans For Olympic Skater And Coach
That's how a disciplinary panel at the International Skating Union (ISU) describes the behavior of former U.S. Olympic short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun during a contentious international meet in Poland in 2011.
American Olympic medalist Simon Cho confessed last Fall to sabotaging the skate of a Canadian rival at that meet. Cho claimed his coach made him do it.
But in announcing two-year suspensions for both, the ISU panel says it "does not have sufficient evidence" to support Cho's claim. Still, the panel concludes that Coach Chun "created an atmosphere which led to the tampering action..."
The panel writes that "instead of guiding the skaters responsibly Mr. Chun abused the skaters mentally and emotionally."
Two witnesses submitted testimony during a closed hearing in June saying Chun was hostile toward the Canadian team, which he once coached, in a shared locker room at the Warsaw event. Chun believed the Canadians had "team skated," a tactic that helped another team at the expense of the American skaters.
Canadian Oliver Jean was later forced out of the competition after Cho surreptitiously bent a blade on one of Jean's skates in the locker room. Jean testified in an affidavit that Chun told him, "You deserved the broken blade, you deserve what's happening to you."
Earlier, Jean wrote, Chun told him, "I know worse dirty tactics to make someone lose...I wish you bad luck; I hope you lose the race."
The panel commended Cho for publicly admitting he tampered with Jean's skate, apologizing to Jean and showing remorse, citing all of that as "mitigation."
"It does not make a difference whether the coach Mr. Chun incited Mr. Cho to tamper with the skate or whether Mr. Cho did it on his own initiative," the panel writes. "Either Mr. Chun verbally requested him to do so or he set the skater under psychological pressure..."
Chun's spokesman rejects the panel's conclusions. "I don't think the proceedings were fair," says Hyonmyong Cho, who is not related to Simon Cho. Chun, he asserts, is the victim of an "orchestrated slander."
Hyonmyong Cho says skaters supporting Chun and his version of events were not permitted to testify at the ISU hearing. He also says the panel did not consider other evidence Chun believed relevant to the case.
The panel says it rejected written evidence not directly relevant to the tampering incident and did not invite witness testimony based on "hearsay."
The decision bolsters the complaints of a dozen short track athletes who boycotted Chun last year, according to Ed Williams, an attorney for the skaters.
"This vindicates the boycotting athletes' assertions of over a year ago that Jae Su Chun was indeed mentally and emotionally abusive toward the skaters," Williams says.
The ISU panel specifically notes that its decision does not involve the physical and mental abuse claims of those athletes. A U.S. Speedskating (USS) investigation found that there was no "pattern of abuse." The USS investigators also considered the sabotage incident but neglected to interview Jean and included an email purportedly from a former U.S. skater enthusiastically supporting Chun. The athlete told NPR he didn't write the email.
The suspensions can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but Cho says he's done with the case and the sport.
"This long investigation has caused irreparable pain for my family and I to the point where I can no longer find it in myself to keep skating," Cho says.
Before the scandal, Cho was considered a possible successor to Apolo Ohno, a short track star who won more Winter Olympic medals than any other American athlete. Ohno retired after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
USS says it will now consider its own disciplinary action for Cho. The group suspended Chun last year for failing to report the tampering incident after he learned about it.
According to his spokesman, Chun plans to keep coaching short track skaters aiming to compete in the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. In fact, Chun is a regular fixture at the Utah Olympic Oval outside Salt Lake City, the home ice for U.S. speedskaters. He is privately coaching some of Team USA's best skaters, despite the bans.
"He can continue to do what he likes as a private citizen," says Tamara Castellano, a spokeswoman for USS.