Speedskate case conundrum: Simon says, Simon doesn't

Federation still should seize chance to oust coaches

Jeff Simon at the 2009 U.S. Championships (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Jeff Simon at the 2009 U.S. Championships (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images / December 25, 2012)

Simon says.

Simon denies.

That contradiction is the most perplexing conundrum to come out of the investigation into allegations of abuse and of involvement in skate tampering made against U.S. short track speedskating head coach Jae Su Chun.

The executive summary of the investigation by the New York-based law firm, White & Case, released Friday, says Simon Cho alleged the coach had first asked him and another U.S. skater, Jeff Simon, to damage a Canadian’s skate at the 2011 World Team Championships in Warsaw.

Jeff Simon denied to the investigators that the conversation took place.

Cho also said he told Jeff Simon during the meet’s final event about having tampered with a skate belonging to Olivier Jean, who was unable to keep skating on the damaged blade.

Jeff Simon denied that conversation took place.  He said Cho first told him about the incident on the plane home from Moscow and, at that time, Cho never mentioned the coach having been involved.

Cho said he finally acceded to the coach’s request when he made it in Korean, their common native language.  Chun has denied that and all other charges of being party to the tampering.

One thing is clear: the allegations about the coach would have been a lot stronger had Jeff Simon corroborated Cho’s statements.

In a Monday text message, Jeff Simon said, “I have been truthful and forthright in my perspective as it pertains to this particular situation.”

Perhaps this “he-said, he-said” conflict will be resolved if the case goes to a scheduled Nov. 1 arbitration, where testimony will be under oath, and there is the possibility to compel witnesses through subpoenas.

For now, US Speedskating can come down hard on the 20-year-old Cho – with full justification – while deciding the behavior of Chun and his assistant, Jun Hyung Yeo, merits a disciplinary process only because they knew what Cho had done but failed to report it.

There will also be a disciplinary process for Cho after what US Speedskating called, an “egregious breach of our code of conduct.”

Cho should get a lengthy suspension for his admission last week of having used a bending machine to damage Jean’s skate blade. After all, no matter what pressure he felt, cultural or otherwise, Cho knew his actions were unethical and inexcusable.

Two years from the date of the punishment seems a reasonable ban, since it would keep Cho, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, from competing in the next Winter Games.

Why not lifetime?  Remember that the International Skating Union, which governs speed and figure skating worldwide, gave French Ice Sports Federation president Didier Gailhaguet only a loosely enforced, three-year ban for his involvement in the 2002 Olympic pairs skating fix, and the sulfurous Gailhaguet returned to his federation’s presidency in 2007.

As Cho’s attorney, John Wunderli, notes, there is no logical answer to the question of why the skater would have tampered on his own initiative.  At the time he acted, neither Cho nor the U.S. team stood to gain anything for themselves competitively in the world team meet by hurting Canada’s medal chances.

Jeff Simon, two-event world bronze medalist in 2011, seemingly would have gained by echoing Cho’s story.  After all, Jeff Simon had a significant role in the allegations of abuse against Chun.

He was among more than a dozen skaters who signed complaints against Chun, Yeo and a former U.S. coach, Jimmy Jang, with charges that triggered the investigation and sought the coaches’ dismissal.  Jeff Simon, 23, also filed a report with the Salt Lake City police department alleging Chun had threatened, intimidated and physically assaulted him.

The White & Case investigators decided there was no pattern of emotional abuse and that the allegations of physical abuse “individually do not constitute physical abuse and collectively they do not constitute a pattern of abuse.”

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