Some U.S. short track skaters stick up for embattled coach

Olympic bronze medallist Lana Gehring, U.S. teammate Jessica Smith and seven other speedskaters signed a statement Tuesday claiming abuse allegations against their coach are "baseless" and a "false attack on his character."
Lana Gehring responded just two days after allegations of abuse involving the U.S. short track speedskating coach were first made public. (Jim Urquhart/Associated Press)

Olympic bronze medallist Lana Gehring, U.S. teammate Jessica Smith and seven other speedskaters signed a statement Tuesday claiming abuse allegations against their coach are "baseless" and a "false attack on his character."

Gehring and Smith said they don't believe allegations levelled against short track coach Jae Su Chun or assistant Jun Hyung Yeo. The charges were levelled recently by more than a dozen other athletes in complaints to the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Speedskating.

"We have never seen any abuse take place — physical, sexual, verbal or emotional — and we know these men are not capable of abuse," the statement reads.

The statement was emailed to select media outlets. It also is signed by U.S. Short Track National Racing Program skaters Kimberly Derrick, John-Henry Krueger, Tamara Frederick, Cole Krueger, Eduardo Alvarez, Chris Creveling and Keith Carroll Jr. Derrick and Gehring both won bronze medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

U.S. Speedskating announced Monday that Chun was being placed on administrative leave and Yeo in charge while an independent law firm investigates the abuse claims.

Gehring and Smith said Chun pushes hard and not everyone may like his style, but they believe he cares deeply about his skaters.

"Any coach at an Olympic level is going to have high expectations and will push their athletes to be the very best they can be," the statement said.

Chun issued a statement Sunday denying that he abused athletes in any way while expressing confidence he would be found innocent.

Gehring and Smith, in their statement, questioned the timing of the allegations.

They noted how their Summer Olympic counterparts rallied a nation by leading the world in medals won in London, and how every member of their short track team brought home at least one medal in Vancouver.

"Now 17 months away from our moment under the bright lights in Sochi, Russia, at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, at a time when we should be focused on how we are going to take on the world, we are instead forced to defend our coach against baseless allegations of abuse that are nothing more than a false attack on his character," the statement said.

Fourteen current members of the national team, including 2010 Olympic medallists Allison Baver, J.R. Celski, Alyson Dudek, Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone, and five former skaters, signed the complaint alleging abuse.

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 on Tuesday filed a demand for arbitration against U.S. Speedskating with the American Arbitration Association. He wants 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. 27-30 at the oval in Kearns, Utah.

"The athletes hope that, with today's filing of a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association containing further and more specific allegations of abuse and other coach misconduct, US Speedskating will realize it can no longer defend the abusive conduct of their coaches, much of which occurred in their very own facility and in the presence of USS Staff, and was reported to USS by the athletes; and that the US Speedskating Board of Directors, now armed with this additional information, will finally take appropriate action with respect to the coaches, and thereby make the arbitration unnecessary." Williams said in a statement.

Registration closed for the competition Monday night and speedskating officials said all of the major athletes were among those listed, except Katherine Reutter, who is still recovering from surgery.

"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," Williams said.

The code of conduct complaint Williams filed 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 is also looking into the matter, which threatens to disrupt a program that has long produced a steady stream of medals for the Americans despite persistent financial problems.

Gehring and Smith said in their statement that they have faith Chun would take them to the top of the podium in Sochi in 2014.

"We truly believe that Jae Su is the most knowledgeable short track speedskating coach in the world and that he conducts himself ethically and with integrity in every way," the statement said. "An investigation is in process. We are fully co-operating with that investigation, and are confident that our coaches will be cleared so that we can put this behind us and get back to focusing on what U.S. speedskaters do best — winning medals!"

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