U.S. Speedskating promised a thorough investigation Monday into allegations of abuse against the head coach of the national short track team, even while promoting an assistant also accused of wrongdoing.
An attorney for athletes who made the charges vowed they would never again compete for any of the coaches who allegedly who mistreated them.
The governing body announced that assistant coach Jun Hyung Yeo will step in for Jae Su Chun, who was placed on administrative leave after issuing a statement denying any verbal, physical or psychological abuse. Yeo and a former assistant, Jimmy Jang, also were named in the complaint made by 14 current members of the national team, including 2010 Olympic medalists Allison Baver, J.R. Celski, Alyson Dudek, Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone. Five former skaters also signed on.
"While Jun was named in the grievance, there have been no specific claims made against him and therefore he will coach the team for now," said Tamara Castellano, a spokeswoman for U.S. Speedskating. "For the stability of the program and because athletes in the national racing program know him and are comfortable with him, he will be coaching while Mr. Chun is on leave."
The athletes who filed the complaint are boycotting the national team, working instead with a local program at the Utah Olympic Oval in suburban Salt Lake City.
"They will not skate for these coaches," said their New York-based attorney, Edward Williams. "They will end their careers rather than skate for a team that includes any of the three coaches who have been abusing them."
Williams said he would go to the American Arbitration Association on Tuesday and ask for an expedited hearing, with the goal of getting a new coaching staff in place before the fall World Cup teams are selected at the U.S. Single Distance Championships. That competition will be held Sept. 27 to 30 at the oval in Kearns, Utah.
"What we’re concerned about is when my clients make the international World Cup team to represent the U.S., they will be asked about an hour after the team is selected to skate with whoever U.S. Speedskating puts in the coaching position. … I am concerned after the trials are over, Mr. Chun will be taken off administrative leave."
A 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." It also claims that Chun told his skaters to be "obnoxious" to Canadian rivals at the 2011 World Team Championships.
Williams said a police report was filed Friday in Utah, though no criminal charges have been brought. U.S. Speedskating has brought in an independent law firm to investigate. The U.S. Olympic Committee also is looking into the matter, which comes less than 18 months before the next Winter Games in Sochi and threatens to disrupt a program that has long produced a steady stream of medals for the Americans despite persistent financial problems. Comedian Stephen Colbert stepped in to help fund the program before the Vancouver Games after it lost a major sponsor.
The long track team is not part of the allegations, though it also trains at the Utah oval and is undoubtedly affected by all the turmoil.
"The safety, security and wellbeing of our athletes is always our primary concern," Castellano said. "We hope to resolve this as quickly as possible so that everyone can move on to a training environment that is comfortable for all of our athletes as we move closer to Sochi."
An initial grievance signed by 19 skaters on Aug. 30 alleged long-standing 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 were against Chun, the former head coach of the South Korea national team. He was hired in 2007 and credited with improving the U.S. team before the Vancouver Games, where American short track skaters led by Apolo Anton Ohno and Katherine Reutter won six medals. Neither Ohno nor Reutter signed the complaints.
Ohno has not skated competitively since becoming the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian ever and it’s not known whether he even plans to come back for a fourth Olympics. At the moment, he’s getting ready for another turn on "Dancing With The Stars." Reutter has battled serious injuries since Vancouver, threatening her career.