The fact that former long track coach Guy Thibault will is taking the reins of the U.S. short track team following Octobers resignation of Jae Su Chun has caused yet another rift among U.S. athletes.
Vancouver bronze medalist Lana Gehrig, world team member Jessica Smith, and up-and-coming teen skater John-Henry Krueger will all continue to skate with Chun and his assistant Jun Hyung Yeo, but will be forced to pay for the instruction out-of-pocket.
Chun’s team, which will go by the name Salt Lake International, is now the second group to break from the U.S. program following the creation of FAST coached by Anthony Barthell and Alex Izykowski.
Chun resigned two months ago amid allegations of physical and verbal abuse, and an admission from 2010 bronze medalist Simon Cho, who said he tampered with a rival’s skates at Chun’s request last year.
While Gehrig, who told the Chicago Tribune that Chun is the one who made her the skater she is, seems excited by the prospect, U.S. Speedskating executive director Mark Greenwald is less enthused.
“We have an obligation to manage and lead the sport appropriately and encourage people to follow rules and standards, and we have tried to do that,” Greenwald said. “We are not going to act to support [SLI] in any way. We are in the process of putting back into place the National Racing Program with top-level coaches.”
It certainly doesn’t help that no U.S. female team member has made a world cup final this season, a run that Gehrig and her teammates hope to end at the Samsung ISU Short Track this weekend in Shanghai.
Short track speed skating world champ Simon Cho announced at a press conference in Salt Lake City Friday that rumors and allegations he was asked to tamper with a rival’s skates last year by suspended coach Jae Su Chun are true.
Cho alleges that Chun asked him to “mess with” a Canadian team member’s skates three times; twice in English, which Cho refused, and then in Korean, which was when the skater felt obligated to say yes because of his cultural connection with his Chun. Both were born in South Korea.
“In Asian culture when an elder asks you to do something very difficult, to deny the request, no matter how ridiculous it might sound at the time… I had a lot of pressure from that,” Cho admitted.
Cho apologized to Oliver Jean and the Canadian team for his actions at the 2011 World Team Championships in Poland, as well as to the speed skating community for his “poor judgment and bad sportsmanship.”
“Although the skate belonged to Olivier Jean, I had no intention to single him out,” Cho confessed in a statement. “It was the biggest mistake of my life and one that I regret with all my heart.”
Cho missed grabbing one of the five men’s spots on the U.S. world cup team Sunday, and afterward said he expects to be suspended for his actions. On Friday he added that he would never again skate for Chun, who has also been accused of “unchecked” physical and verbal abuse by 19 current and former skaters.
“I hope that I can make up for my mistake,” Cho finished. “And continue to skate in the future.”
An arbitration hearing regarding allegations against U.S. short track coach Jae Su Chun has been rescheduled from next week to Nov. 1 according to the Salt Lake Tribune, meaning the accusing skaters won’t be able to air their grievances before the World Cup season starts Oct. 19 in Calgary.
Ten skaters were picked for the U.S. team during trials in Kearns, Utah over the weekend, but five of those are part of a group that filed a code of conduct complaint against Chun with U.S. Speedskating and the USOC for “unchecked abuse.” They were waiting to see if Chun would be dismissed before deciding whether or not to accept their spots the team, but need to do so before Oct. 7.
Chun was put on administrative leave after 19 of his current and former skaters filed a complaint stating Chun was physically and verbally abusive. The arbitration, which now only lists 12 skaters, added that Chun told Vancouver bronze-medalist Simon Cho to tamper with Canadian rival Oliver Jean’s skates before a 5000m relay race in Poland last year, which Chun denies
The team is currently being coached by Jun Hyung Yeo, one of Chun’s assistant who many team members also want dismissed. U.S. Speedskating says they’re working on a plan for the first two World Cup events, both of which will take place in Canada before the November hearing.