More sexual abuse claims rock South Korean skating as Shim Suk-hee comes forward

AP
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — More South Korean female skaters are accusing their coaches of sexually abusing them, a group representing the athletes disclosed Monday following claims by two-time Olympic champion Shim Suk-hee that her former coach had repeatedly raped her.

The announcement came amid a growing #MeToo movement in South Korea’s elite sports scene, which has been notorious for a brutal training culture and highly hierarchical relationships between coaches and athletes.

In addition to Shim, female athletes in judo, taekwondo and wrestling have also accused their male coaches of sexually abusing them. Members of the country’s silver medal-winning Olympic curling team, cheered as the Garlic Girls for their hometown’s famed produce, have accused their former coaches of verbal abuse and holding back prize money.

In a news conference at South Korea’s parliament, a group called Solidarity for Young Skaters said five other skaters had been sexually abused by their coaches. The group didn’t reveal any names, citing privacy worries.

Lawmaker Sohn Hye-won, who appeared in the same news conference, said one of the alleged victims said she was repeatedly groped as a teen by a coach while training at the Korea National Sport University, a powerhouse in producing Olympic athletes. The skater said the unidentified coach would forcibly hug and kiss her and verbally abused her after she rejected his advances, Sohn said.

Sohn also called for an investigation into former national team coach Jeon Myeong-gyu, who is somewhat of a godfather figure in South Korean skating. Currently a professor at KNSU, Jeon has long been accused of nepotism for favoring athletes and coaches from the school in international competition and is now under suspicion of pressuring victims in order to cover up sex crimes committed by coaches he taught.

“There has been frequent sexual abuse in the skating scene, but the offenders in most cases did not receive punishment; that’s because the coaches were members of the KNSU circle led by Professor Jeon Myeong-gyu,” said Sohn, adding that the victims are afraid they’ll face retaliation if they come forward with their claims.

Jeon later said at a separate news conference that he feels sorry for Shim and didn’t know she was abused. He denied that he attempted to cover up abusive conduct by his students.

“There’s no way for me to know about every act of sexual violence that takes place. I am not in a position to know that much,” he said.

Sohn and the skaters’ group also urged Korean Sport and Olympic Committee President Lee Kee-heung and other officials to step down for failing to safeguard athletes. The committee said it plans to launch a special committee to investigate abuse across sports and create new rules to protect athletes.

Experts say abusive treatment of female athletes has long been a problem in South Korean elite sports, which are often run by men. Athletes must live in dormitories, where coaches often exercise overbearing control, and they skip school from a young age in order to perform well at athletic events, leaving them with less education and career choices, which makes it harder for them to resist unjust treatment, critics say.

South Korea has associated Olympic achievements with national pride, and the problems regarding training cultures have often been overlooked as long as the athletes succeed.

But the pressure for change is now coming from a younger generation of athletes, led by Shim, who won two gold medals in women’s short-track speed skating in the 2018 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

Shim earlier this month accused her former coach, Cho Jae-beom, of repeatedly raping her since she was 17.

Cho was fired as the national team coach shortly before the Pyeongchang Olympics last year and is now serving a 10-month prison term for physically assaulting athletes, including Shim. Cho’s lawyers said he denies sexually assaulting Shim.

Shim’s claims have encouraged other female athletes to speak up about the alleged abuse they suffered from their male coaches. Shin Yoo-young, a former judo athlete, has also accused her former high school coach of repeatedly raping her. Lee Ji-hye, a former taekwondo athlete, told a television interview that she had been sexually abused by her former coach for five years, starting when she was a sixth-grader.

The Korea Wrestling Federation is also investigating claims that a coach groped some female members of the national team while they were training for the Jakarta Palembang Asian Games last year.

Katie Ledecky out-touches new rival at swimming’s U.S. Open, extends streak

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It was a rare sight: Katie Ledecky being matched stroke for stroke in a distance race in an American pool. She was up for the challenge.

Ledecky out-touched emerging 16-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh by eight hundredths of a second in the 400m freestyle at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday night.

Ledecky and McIntosh were tied at the 300-meter mark. Ledecky ended up clocking 3:59.71 to McIntosh’s 3:59.79 to extend a decade-long win streak in freestyle races of 400 meters or longer in U.S. pools.

“I know we’ll have a lot more races ahead of us,” Ledecky said on Peacock. “We bring the best out of each other.”

The U.S. Open continues Friday with live finals coverage on Peacock at 6 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

At the Tokyo Olympics, McIntosh placed fourth in the 400m free at age 14.

She accelerated this year, taking silver behind Ledecky at the world championships and silver behind Tokyo gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia at the Commonwealth Games.

Then in October, McIntosh outdueled Ledecky in a 400m free — also by eight hundredths — in a short-course, 25-meter pool at a FINA World Cup meet in Toronto. Long-course meets like the Olympics and the U.S. Open are held in 50-meter pools.

McIntosh also won world titles in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley, becoming the youngest individual world champion since 2011.

A potential showdown among Ledecky, Titmus and McIntosh at the 2024 Paris Games is already being compared to the “Race of the Century,” the 2004 Olympic men’s 200m free where Australian Ian Thorpe edged Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps.

In other events Thursday, Regan Smith, an Olympic and world medalist in the backstroke and butterfly, won a 200m individual medley in a personal best 2:10.40, a time that would have placed fifth at June’s world championships. She beat 16-year-old Leah Hayes, who took bronze in the event at worlds.

Olympic 400m IM champ Chase Kalisz won the men’s 200m IM in 1:56.52, his best time ever outside of major summer meets. Frenchman Léon Marchand won the world title in 1:55.22 in June, when Kalisz was fourth.

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Eliud Kipchoge, two races shy of his target, to make Boston Marathon debut

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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World record holder Eliud Kipchoge will race the Boston Marathon for the first time on April 17.

Kipchoge, who at September’s Berlin Marathon lowered his world record by 30 seconds to 2:01:09, has won four of the six annual major marathons — Berlin, Tokyo, London and Chicago.

The 38-year-old Kenyan has never raced Boston, the world’s oldest annual marathon dating to 1897, nor New York City but has repeated in recent years a desire to enter both of them.

Typically, he has run the London Marathon in the spring and the Berlin Marathon in the fall.

Kipchoge’s last race in the U.S. was the 2014 Chicago Marathon, his second of 10 consecutive marathon victories from 2014 through 2019.

He can become the first reigning men’s marathon world record holder to finish the Boston Marathon since South Korean Suh Yun-Bok set a world record of 2:25:39 in Boston in 1947, according to the Boston Athletic Association.

In 2024 in Paris, Kipchoge is expected to race the Olympic marathon and bid to become the first person to win three gold medals in that event.

The Boston Marathon field also includes arguably the second- and third-best men in the world right now — Kipchoge’s Kenyan training partners Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto. Chebet won Boston and New York City this year. Kipruto won Boston last year and Chicago this year.

American Des Linden, who won Boston in 2018, headlines the women’s field.

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