KEARNS, Utah (AP) — Katherine Reutter feels torn over a coaching scandal that has rocked U.S. Speedskating.
Yes, embattled coach Jae Su Chun has called her “fat” and pushed her to skate at times she thought were physically and mentally impossible.
But the two-time Olympic medalist says she has not witnessed the physical abuse described in documents filed on behalf of a dozen national team members who seek Chun’s permanent removal as a U.S. coach.
“I have been pushed to the limit and that’s why I have medals,” Reutter said while watching the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships this weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval.
Reutter, healing after two hip operations earlier this year and a bulging disk in August, doesn’t see any easy solutions.
“One side is going to suffer whether Jae Su stays or goes,” she said of Chun, who has denied the allegations and is on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Ten of 12 spots on the fall World Cup team will be decided when racing is complete Sunday, and two discretionary picks will be made next month. As Saturday’s results indicate, the dozen spots figure to be split between members of the National Racing Program and the splinter FAST Team.
JR Celski, who races for the Fast Team and seeks Chun’s dismissal in an arbitration hearing scheduled for Oct. 8, earned the first spot on the men’s team Saturday. Jessica Smith, who competes for the National Racing Program and issued a statement supporting Chun, earned the first spot for the women.
Reutter could only watch and cheer and has tried to remain officially neutral as an athlete representative member of the U.S. Speedskating Board of Directors.
She says she sees good and bad points made by both sides, but fears anything she says will be misconstrued. And while she believes athletes have the right to file a grievance against U.S. Speedskating and air complaints, she won’t back the arbitration and doesn’t want any of her past experiences with Chun used to drive it.
Before the arbitration hearing, a report by an independent law firm hired by U.S. Speedskating to investigate the abuse charges against Chun is expected to be finished this week.
He is accused of hitting athletes, throwing things at them and pushing them to over-train to the point of injury.
Perhaps the most inflammatory accusation is that he ordered Simon Cho to sabotage the skate of Canadian rival Olivier Jean at the 2011 World Team Championships. The allegation was made in the arbitration documents, but Cho’s attorney said his client had cooperated with the investigation by the New York-based law firm of White & Case.
Derek Parra, a 2002 Olympic gold medalist in the 1500 meters who oversees speedskating at the Olympic venue, has heard plenty of rumblings from skaters not happy with Chun’s training methods. And he’s had others come into his office and say Chun has helped them skate their best ever.
He believes some of the issues with Chun, who he considers a great technical coach, may be cultural. Chun hails from South Korea, where a stern approach is often the norm.
“Maybe the only hard evidence will be the skate tampering, and that to me would sway my decision,” Parra said. “If that really did happen, I’d lose a lot of respect for both (Chun and Cho). … I don’t want to win like that. If you do, you shouldn’t be in the sport.”
Reutter, likewise, would consider it “the worst kind of cheating” if that allegation proves true. She hopes that is not the case but doesn’t know what to believe until the investigation is complete.
The ongoing complaints already have forced some positive changes within the national governing body, she said.
“A lot of it is too little too late … when you already have half your team leave and they’re so injured they don’t ever want to risk coming back,” she said.
Parra also sees positive changes.
“Right now they’re fighting for a voice and to be heard,” he said. “The allegations aside, whatever happens in this whole ordeal will be good for both sides because the organization will have to step up and pay a little more attention to the athletes and what’s going on on the ice and not just look the other way.”
Reutter recently opted to return to the National Racing Program because she figured it was her best chance to get back to the Olympics. Plus, she is fortunate one of her corporate sponsors will ensure she has her own exercise physiologist, nutritionist and sports psychologist.
She remains hopeful that if she continues to progress with no setbacks she will be ready for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and perhaps even for the December trials that will determine racers for the second half of the World Cup season.
“But there are no guarantees,” said Reutter, who at 24 already has had three hip operations, two major back injuries and has been pain free again only in recent days.