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NPR Politics presents the Lunchbox List: our favorite campaign news and stories curated from NPR and around the Web in digestible bites (100 words or less!). Look for it every weekday afternoon from now until the conventions.

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Embattled U.S. Speedskating Coach Responds To Resignation And Suspension

Oct 12, 2012
Originally published on October 12, 2012 6:56 pm

A day after resigning under pressure from U.S. Speedskating, former head coach Jae Su Chun says he didn't report a tampering incident at an international meet last year to protect skater Simon Cho, who confessed to sabotaging a Canadian athlete's skate blade.

"I know I chose Simon over my own principles," Chun says in a written statement translated from Korean by a spokesman.

"I wanted to protect him and his family," Chun writes. "I was wrong."

But nowhere in his 650-word statement does he address Cho's claim that Chun pressured the 20-year-old skater hard to sabotage the skate.

In fact, Chun says he hopes he "may be close to him again," in reference to Olivier Jean, the Canadian athlete who was forced from the final event of the 2011 World Short Track Team Championships in Poland when the bent blade of his skate wouldn't track properly on the ice.

Chun once coached Jean and the Canadian team.

"During my time coaching him, I came to love him and the dynamic way he skates on the ice," Chun says. "I apologize to him for not saying anything during this difficult period."

Chun does not address the statement he allegedly made to Jean before the final relay in Poland. Jean previously told NPR in an email relayed by a Speed Skating Canada spokesman that Chun told him, "I wish you bad luck. I hope you lose."

Others on the Canadian and American short track teams, who shared a locker room at the meet, say Chun exhibited anger and frustration with the Canadians. Cho told NPR that Chun seemed to believe the Canadians had manipulated the results of an earlier round, forcing the Americans out of the final.

After the tampering incident, Chun and Canadian skater Francois Hamelin nearly came to blows after Chun verbally attacked Hamelin and his brother Charles, who also skates for Canada.

"You and your brother, I lost a lot of respect for what you did yesterday," Chun said, according to Laurent Daignault, a Canadian coach who also once worked for the American team and was dismissed by Chun.

Daignault was in the locker room after the tampering incident as Chun addressed the American skaters. He says Chun told them, "What happened to [the Canadians], they deserved it."

In his statement, Chun talks about visiting Jean so he can apologize to him in person for failing to report the tampering incident.

Chun goes on to address the allegations of physical and verbal abuse filed by more than a dozen current and former U.S. skaters, including five Olympic medalists.

"I will not dignify that document with a response," Chun writes, in reference to the "Demand for Arbitration" filed by the complaining skaters in an effort to get Chun removed from his coaching post.

"I find abuse repugnant," Chun says. "Anyone who speaks with my athletes in America, Canada and Korea in detail, even some of the complainants, and reads any of the articles about me in the Korean press over the last decade will know why I say this."

Chun asks the press and the public to read the report released by U.S. Speedskating investigators a week ago. It found no patterns of physical or emotional abuse and noted conflicting opinions among skaters about Chun's coaching style. But it referred to "isolated though admittedly disturbing incidents" and said its conclusion "should not, however, be viewed as an endorsement of Coach Chun's training methods and tactics."

The investigators also said they "do not believe there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Coach Chun directed Simon Cho to tamper with the skate" at the competition in Poland. But they also noted that "an adversarial proceeding under oath could generate a different conclusion."

Chun's statement appeals to those "who feel that my mistake has hurt your perception of short track speedskating." He speaks of his love for the sport.

"It is the sport that I know of that is most like life," he says. "Hard work and discipline are needed to be successful, but it is not enough."

With his resignation, Chun also accepts a ban from any U.S. Speedskating events or programs through the next Winter Olympics in February, 2014.

The International Skating Union (ISU) may also take action. A spokeswoman declined comment in reaction to Chun's resignation, referring to a statement last week.

"In presence of reasonable evidence of misconduct," the statement said, "the ISU has always taken and will continue to take the necessary steps."

Simon Cho now faces a U.S. Speedskating disciplinary panel which will decide whether he will be suspended or permanently banned from the sport. Cho can seek binding arbitration if he disputes the panel's decision.

U.S. Speedskating has yet to disclose a schedule for the disciplinary proceedings.

Neither Cho, his attorney nor the attorney for the complaining skaters have responded to requests for comment about Chun's statement.

Chun's complete statement is posted here, or click on the headline "Chun statement" in the box below to pop up a copy.

Update at 5:51 p.m. ET: Speedskaters' Attorneys Respond To Chun's Statement:

Edward Williams, the attorney for the skaters who filed abuse complaints against Chun, says Chun's statement is short on detail.

"Remarkably, Coach Jae Su ... does not give any reason why he 'resigned' and relinquished his coaching license" through the 2014 Olympics, Williams says.

"The fact, pure and simple," Williams adds, "is that Coach Jae Su resigned rather than be required to face his accusers, as well as cross-examination, under oath at the arbitration hearing scheduled to commence on November 1 in Salt Lake City." Chun's resignation makes that arbitration hearing moot and it has been canceled.

John Wunderli represents Simon Cho and he points out that U.S. Speedskating has yet to release a full report from its investigators. Only an executive summary was made public last week.

When the full report is out, Wunderli says, "we expect it will contain statements by many skaters about Coach Chun's behavior in [Poland] that are consistent with what Simon has said and inconsistent with Coach Chun's statement today."

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