U.S. Speedskater Tampered With Rival's Skate

Hear Howard Berkes' Report On 'All Things Considered'

U.S. Speedskating is expected to reveal the results of an investigation into allegations of abuse and sabotage involving coaches on the Olympic short track team. The group may also reveal proposed punishments for the accused coaches and world and national champion Simon Cho, who has admitted to tampering with another skater's blade at an international meet last year. Cho says he was badgered by a coach to sabotage the skate. Melissa Block talks to Howard Berkes.


Now developments in a sports scandal. U.S. Speedskating announced today it will launch disciplinary proceedings against two short track coaches and a reigning world champion. The three have been embroiled in a scandal involving the sabotage of a rival athlete's skate. There are also allegations of abuse, involving 19 current and former skaters, but today a team of investigators said it found no evidence of a pattern of abuse. NPR's Howard Berkes is following the story from Salt Lake City, where U.S. Speedskating is based and where the skaters live and train. And Howard, this morning in your story, we heard skater Simon Cho admit to sabotaging the skate of a competitor from Canada. Remind us of exactly what he did.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: He was sitting in a locker room at the world team skating championships in Poland last year, and he picked up a skate of a Canadian skater. He jammed it into a bending machine, a machine that helps shape the blade of a skate, basically hit it so hard it went out of kilter. The Canadian later put on that skate, went out to skate on the ice in a relay and his skate wouldn't track properly and he was forced out of the relay. The other thing Simon Cho said was that his coach, the head coach of the U.S. team, Jae-su Chun, badgered him into sabotaging the skate, essentially ordering him to do it.

BLOCK: And what did they investigators find about that?

BERKES: There were contradictory witness statements that they were working with, you know, these are investigators who don't have subpoena authority. They can't compel people to testify. There aren't lawyers sitting there conducting cross-examination and no one's under oath. So they concluded that, you know, the witnesses didn't agree so there was insufficient evidence to say whether coach Jae-su Chun badgered Simon Cho into sabotaging those skates. This will probably have to be sorted out in an arbitration hearing that's scheduled for November 1, in which it will be a more formal proceeding with people under oath. I should say though, that both Chun and an assistant coach admitted that they knew about this incident within a day or so but they failed to report it, and now both of them are on administrative leave because of that, and that's why there's a disciplinary proceeding involving them, and it also leaves the team without a coach.

BLOCK: OK. Well, let's talk more about the abuse allegations that we mentioned. Many skaters charged the coaches were verbally and emotionally abusive. How did the investigators conclude that there was in fact no pattern of abuse?

BERKES: Yeah, they said that abuse was something tough to discern. There are no abuse standards that U.S. Speedskating has. The U.S. Olympic Committee is actually developing a standards of behavior for the coaches when it comes to abuse, but those aren't ready yet. And they were forced to resort to a dictionary definition. They did say that this was not exoneration, and again, they said that this was something that may need to be sorted out by this arbitration process that will take place in a couple of weeks.

BLOCK: OK. So two coaches suspended. Meantime, the World Cup season begins in two weeks. How does U.S. Speedskating move forward?

BERKES: U.S. Speedskating says they're desperately seeking another coach. They hope to have one in place early next week. They hope that coach will somehow be able to bring the team together and move them forward on into the World Cup season and more importantly on into the Olympic year that begins in January.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Howard Berkes. Howard, thanks.

BERKES: You're welcome.

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