Editor’s note: In the Sunday Chicago Sports section, a story on Jack Mortell’s involvement in Olympic speedskating said that Mortell received portions of medal bonuses from U.S. Olympians in 2002 in an arrangement approved by US Speedskating. The story also said the USOC code of ethics in place at the time barred any member of the U.S. Olympic delegation from accepting gifts of more than a nominal value. Mortell told the Tribune in an email, “USS Coaches and Olympic Staff have had medal bonus clauses in their contracts as far back as at least 1988 that I know of.” He said he considered the money a bonus that he earned for his contributions to the skaters’ achievements, not a gift.
Retired Evanston firefighter Jack Mortell has built a reputation as a person extremely knowledgeable and passionate about speedskating, earning himself recognition in the National Speedskating Hall of Fame as a contributor to the sport.
But critics say he has also contributed to creating the many problems that beset US Speedskating.
"(Mortell) sees whatever vision he wants and is going to make it happen, regardless of what anyone else says," Olympic champion Joey Cheek, a former US Speedskating board member, said.
A Tribune examination found the federation has long been plagued by financial and organization troubles. And Mortell is the lightning rod for those who say the federation's volunteer old guard has thwarted attempts to make changes that would move the sport forward.
"I do have a heavy hand," Mortell, 59, said. "I've got particular ways that I feel the sport should be run."
Mortell has also earned his supporters. "Jack's a pit bull," said Chris Weaver, a former federation employee.
Mortell has been, among other things: a skater, an Olympic coach and team leader, an international meet official, a board director and vice president. Most recently, he was a paid staffer responsible for the annual performance plan sent to the USOC for funding requests. He quit that post in July.
At the 2002 Winter Games, Mortell was team leader, a position that is part factotum, part troubleshooter for the athletes.
In an arrangement approved by US Speedskating, Apolo Ohno gave Mortell $5,000 and Rusty Smith gave him $1,250 as portions of the medal bonuses they received through a federation sponsor, according to Mortell and federation letters signed by then-executive director Katie Marquard informing him of the bonus
He used the money to help buy a 1979 Mercedes-Benz 450SL roadster, according to Mortell and vehicle records obtained by the Tribune. Hagerty, which specializes in collectible car insurance, gives an average car of that make a value around $9,000.
The U.S. Olympic Committee code of ethics in place at the time specified that members of the U.S. delegation — athletes, coaches, officials, team leaders — could not accept gifts of more than a nominal value. Members were expected to follow the rule. Mortell said he was unaware of it.
Marquard declined comment. Ohno and Smith could not be reached for comment.
In 1994, Mortell resigned as short-track coordinator and agreed not to be employed with the federation for at least a year because of his actions in a dispute with an Olympian, according to a settlement agreement published in a skating newsletter. Neither side admitted guilt, according to the agreement.
But Mortell soon returned. As a board member, he said, for a while he spent once a week every month at the federation offices in Utah. He also helped write the contract for the short-track coach.
"You can paint me any way you want," he said. "My job is to win Olympic medals."