On Thursday, U.S. speed skater Simon Cho called Olivier Jean and apologized for tampering with his skates at last year’s short track world team championships.
On Friday, Cho held a media conference in his lawyer’s Salt Lake City office and explained why he deliberately sabotaged the skates of his Canadian rival. As he had told U.S. speed skating officials, Cho felt pressured to do so by U.S. coach Jae Su Chun, who has been accused by a dozen team members of “unchecked” verbal, psychological and physical abuse.
Chun has continued to deny the complaints even during an independent investigation requested by U.S. Speedskating.
“He asked me in English … ‘mess up the blades,’” Cho said of his coach’s instructions. “Later he made the same request in Korean, he made it twice. He was not only coming to me as my coach but as a Korean elder. In the Korean culture, that’s very difficult to deny. I said I’d do it.”
Cho explained he had only a few seconds to act in an empty dressing room shared by the Americans and Canadians at the 2011 world team championships in Poland. Since Jean had been sitting next to him, Cho grabbed his skates, put them in a bending machine and altered the blades. It was enough to throw Jean off balance and scuttle his race. The Canadians finished last in the relay final. The Americans had already been eliminated from the final.
“(Chun) told me he’d take 100 per cent responsibility (if they were caught),” said Cho, who added he felt intimidated by the coach he had worked with since 2007. “Last time I spoke to him, about a month ago, he denied he had any involvement … Regretfully, I believe telling him no to the end would have been the best decision.”
Cho was asked what he said to Jean in their Thursday conversation.
“I told him I’d hold a news conference today and just wanted to apologize. I told him I regret everything. He sounded very understanding of my circumstance.”
John Wunderli, Cho’s attorney, acknowledged what Cho did was wrong but said he hoped “people will understand that he did it under great pressure from his coach, he had nothing personally to gain from doing it, and it was an isolated incident completely inconsistent with who Simon is as a person.”
Cho, who said he expects to be sanctioned by U.S. Speedskating, is not part of the grievance filed against Chun. However, Cho said he “personally observed abuse. I was there when a water bottle was poured onto a skater.”