US speedskater and reigning national short-track champion Simon Cho faces a disciplinary hearing after confessing Friday that he tampered with a Canadian rival’s skate at the 2011 World Team Championship. In a coaching scandal that is getting steadily messier, short track interim coach Jun Hyung Yeo was suspended Friday by the federation for failing to report that tampering.
And the man at the center of the scandal, head coach Jae Su Chun, remains suspended and also could be disciplined for not reporting the tampering.
But investigators commissioned by US Speedskating to investigate said they didn’t find evidence that Chun engaged in "a pattern of physical and emotional abuse" as alleged by skaters, or Cho’s claim that Chun ordered the skate tampering.
The situation left one skater caught in the middle confounded — less than two weeks before the first World Cup event and 16 months before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
"I have no idea what to do," said Jeff Simon, who is among those who alleged he was abused by Chun and who has earned a spot on the World Cup team.
"It seems as nobody is taking decisive action. They have known about these issues for some time. They are quick to point fingers at other people when all the problems have arisen within."
Simon took issue in that the tampering case was such a small part of the allegations initially brought by more than a dozen skaters yet seemed to be the focus of Friday’s action.
Greg Little, whose New York law firm conducted the investigation, denied the report was an exoneration of Chun.
"There are limitations on what we can say," Little said, noting an upcoming arbitration hearing. "It is not an exoneration, and not an endorsement of (Chun’s) coaching methods."
Federation officials said Friday they hoped to have a new coach named by the end of the day or at least by Monda, yet gave no clue as to who that might be — other than to say it would not be one of the coaches of the splinter FAST Team.
A dozen members of the FAST team, including Simon, have filed a demand for arbitration that seeks Chun’s permanent dismissal, and many have said they would refuse to skate for him if he is reinstated.
Cho also said he would not skate again for Chun, a fellow native of South Korea.
An arbitration hearing is set for Nov. 1 in Salt Lake City, but skaters only have until Oct. 13 to decide if they will be part of the fall US World Cup team, which begins Oct. 19 in Calgary.
Cho didn’t qualify, and said the distractions of the skate tampering were a big reason.
Cho admitted Friday at a news conference that he sabotaged the skate of Canada’s Olivier Jean. But he said he did it at the direction of Chun after the coach made the command a third time in Korean.
"When he spoke in Korean, I knew he was serious," Cho said Friday at his attorney’s Salt Lake City office. "The repetitiveness and aggressiveness of how he came at me was very intimidating. … I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer."
Cho, 20, said Simon witnessed the first request in English.
Little said Yeo and Chun both acknowledged to investigators that they knew Cho had tampered with a rival’s skate immediately after it took place yet did not report it to authorities.
That’s why the federation suspended Yeo as well. Chun was suspended last month, and has denied all charges.
Cho also said he personally witnessed Chun douse a skater with water and hit one with a notebook.
Little, whose firm interviewed more than three dozen people as of the investigation, found the abuse allegations problematic because there was no clear-cut definition of what constituted abuse.
Little said the most serious allegation of physical abuse, in which Chun was accused of beating up a skater in an elevator, could not be proven. Little said the skater when interviewed described a different scenario.
Cho said he was embarrassed by his actions and called his decision to comply the "biggest mistake of my life" and one he regrets.
Cho maintained Chun was angry at the Canadians and convinced they had aided another team to knock out the US. Cho said the tampering took just a few seconds, and was done with a blade bender normally used to ensure a skater’s blade follows the proper radius in short track.
"I always knew it was wrong that day," Cho said. "I was very scared. I was frightened. And I was intimidated."
Chun’s attorney, Russell Fericks, said his client never pressured Cho to tamper. "That is a sad and extremely unfortunate canard," Fericks said.