As USA Swimming Grapples With Sexual Abuse, Athletes Cite Lack Of Female Coaches A former Olympic athlete sued her former coach for alleged abuse and USA Swimming because she says it failed to protect her.

As USA Swimming Grapples With Sexual Abuse, Athletes Cite Lack Of Female Coaches

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Over the past few months, congressional committees have investigated the abuse of Olympic athletes. They've mostly focused on gymnastics, but now new stories are emerging in swimming. That has led to a push to bring more women into the ranks of elite swimming coaches. Reporter Alexandra Starr has the story.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: In 2012, 15-year-old Katie Ledecky stunned spectators at the Olympics when she won gold in the 800-meter freestyle.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Ledecky - it's one of the finest swims you'll ever see - 15 years of age, the youngest ever.

STARR: Ledecky's win was notable for another reason. For the first time ever, a woman, Teri McKeever, served as coach of the female team. In a speech she gave four years ago, she talked about how long it took for a woman to break that barrier.

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TERI MCKEEVER: Swimming started at the Olympics for women in 1912. And I had the great honor in 2012 to be the head coach as we went into London, so a hundred years.

STARR: While women did impressively well in the 2012 Olympics, McKeever was not asked to return in 2016. The staff was, once again, all white men.

SUSAN TEETER: I was personally pretty upset.

STARR: Susan Teeter is one of the few women to oversee a swim program at the collegiate level. She just retired as head coach at Princeton.

TEETER: I just don't understand how you can leave off someone who got rave reviews from 2012 as a head coach. It was mind-boggling.

STARR: USA Swimming did not respond to requests for comment. Nancy Hogshead-Makar was a gold medalist in swimming in 1984. Today, she leads the advocacy organization Champion Women.

NANCY HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: I think the consequences of having an overwhelmingly male coaching staff and leadership is a lot of sexual abuse.

STARR: She says one of her former coaches abused a fellow teammate. And earlier this year, a 2008 Olympic coach, Sean Hutchinson, was sued for assault by one of his former swimmers.

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: What made swimming so dangerous in my era and from what I understand today is that there's this implicit understanding that coaches can find their romantic or sexual partner from within the athletes that they coach.

STARR: Those relationships have been prohibited since 2013, but as Hogshead-Makar points out, that only happened once the U.S. Olympic Committee pressured USA Swimming to adopt the rule. Today, there are more than 150 coaches on USA Swimming's banned list - almost all are men. Most violated the organization's code of conduct including any inappropriate sexually-oriented behavior. Chris DeSantis, a swim coach in New Jersey, says the actual number is probably much higher than the public list would suggest.

CHRIS DESANTIS: I would estimate the actual number of coaches who have done something that they should be banned for is north of a thousand.

STARR: There are certainly coaches who have been publicly accused of assault who are not on the banned list. Sarah Ehekircher says she was molested by her swim coach more than two decades ago. USA Swimming chose not to discipline him after a hearing. She wonders if having more female leadership at the club where she trained might have helped protect her.

SARAH EHEKIRCHER: Specifically for me, you know, I think I would have felt like I had someone to go to.

STARR: Susan Teeter, the former coach at Princeton, says she is devoting her retirement to bringing more women into the coaching ranks.

TEETER: I don't have a solution. I just know it's a problem. And I'm willing to go out looking for the answers and try to change it.

STARR: She's formed a task force in the hopes of making sure the women who are at the pool deck aren't just swimmers or their moms but the people actually in charge. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Starr.

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