To cost your team a shot at being the world’s best because your equipment malfunctioned, and then to hear a year and a half later that you may been sabotaged – it would be enough to send many athletes into a distant stratosphere of bitterness, anger and vengefulness.
But Canada’s Olivier Jean, a speed skater, has responded with dignity and grace in his public remarks, since allegations of the sabotage of his skates at the 2011 World Championships were revealed in a lawsuit last week in the United States.
“You can’t change the past,” the 28-year-old Quebecker told reporters. “I can’t waste energy on something that happened two years ago.”
Mr. Olivier, a gold medallist in the short-track 5,000-metre relay race from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has been known more for his fiery emotion than for stoicism. In the astonishing story of alleged sabotage and abuse of athletes that is tearing apart the U.S. speed skating team, his response speaks to the values of sportsmanship, restraint and humility. These values were trampled on, if the allegations are true.
The story is astonishing in several respects. There are extraordinary allegations of a coach, Chun Jae Su, who is from South Korea, abusing athletes – physically, by hitting them, throwing things at them and dousing them with water; verbally, by screaming at them, insulting and humiliating them, with special punishments reserved for female members (made to walk for an hour to rid themselves of the effects of eating pizza); and emotionally, by forcing a skater who was sick to his stomach to remain on the ice, whereupon he defecated in his skating suit.
The U.S. speed skater Simon Cho is alleged in court documents to have told some of his teammates about the tampering with Mr. Jean’s skates, on orders from Mr. Chun. It can only add to Mr. Jean’s sense of betrayal that Mr. Chun had actually been his own coach for a short time on the Canadian team. But his remarks were kind. “I always had a good relationship with coach Jae Sun Chun. In Montreal, he contributed a lot. I enjoyed training with him, but it was brief.”
To truly own the podium, it helps to have class.