By LYNN DEBRUIN
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —Olympian Simon Cho said Friday (October 5) he agreed to a coach’s demand to tamper with Canadian Olivier Jean’s skates last year after the command was made a third time and in Korean by Jae Su Chun.
“When he spoke in Korean, I knew he was serious,” Cho, a fellow South Korean, said Friday at a news conference at his lawyer’s Salt Lake City office.
“The repetitiveness and aggressiveness of how he came at me was very intimidating. … I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”
Cho said fellow skater Jeff Simon witnessed the first request in English.
Cho also said he would not skate again for Chun, whom he said he personally witnessed douse a skater with water and hit with a notebook.
Cho’s comments confirmed several allegations made in the arbitration demand that seeks to permanently remove U.S. coach Chun. Chun has denied any wrongdoing but is suspended.
Cho said the tampering occurred at the 2011 world team championships in Poland after he had already been eliminated from the competition. The sabotage prevented the Canadian team from contending for the gold or silver medal at the competition. It finished with a bronze.
Cho said he was embarrassed by his actions and called his decision to comply the “biggest mistake of my life” and one he regrets.
He also said he apologized to Jean in a phone conversation Thursday night.
“He sounded personally understanding,” Cho said of his conversation. Cho said the tampering occurred after the U.S. team had already been eliminated from competition.
“Simon Cho showed respect and humility today in admitting to his mistake, and Speed Skating Canada appreciates that he has come forward and that he apologized to Olivier last night in a phone call,” Speed Skating Canada chief executive officer Ian Moss said in a statement.
“It’s a very unfortunate incident. It’s not something that has ever happened in our sport. As Olivier said earlier: ‘You can’t change the past.’”
Cho maintained Chun was angry at the Canadians and convinced they had aided another team to ensure the U.S. had been eliminated. Cho said the tampering took just a few seconds, and was done with a blade bender normally used to ensure a skater’s blade follows the proper radius in short track.
“I always knew it was wrong that day,” Cho said. “I was very scared. I was frightened. And I was intimidated.”
He said Chun at the time said he would take full responsibility if the tampering were ever discovered. But when Cho spoke with him about it a month ago, he said Chun denied any involvement.
“The conduct at issue is repugnant and antithetical to the values of the Olympic Movement and inconsistent with Team USA’s commitment to fair play,” Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Friday morning.
“We regret that an American athlete was involved, and intend to actively engage with US Speedskating to ensure that appropriate action is taken.”
The allegations are part of a larger scandal involving Chun, also accused by a dozen national team members of “unchecked” verbal, psychological and physical abuse.
Cho has not signed onto the complaint and continues to skate with the National Racing Program under interim coach Jun Hyung Yeo. But he said would not skate for Chun.
Cho, who turns 21 in a few days, couldn’t say what would happen with Chun or the other coaches but said he has been “honest and forthright” with all investigations.
“I hope that I can make up for my mistake and continue to skate in the future,” said Cho, a 2010 Olympic relay bronze medallist and 2011 individual world champion.
On Sunday, after failing to qualify for the U.S. fall World Cup team, Cho said he expected to be banned or suspended because of the charges.
Chun’s lawyer, Russell Fericks, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.
But on Thursday he said it was his opinion that Cho is “young and impressionable.”
“It is sad that he feels compelled to support the irresponsible canard that coach Chun instructed him to tamper with another skater’s skate,” Fericks said.
Cho’s lawyer reiterated Friday that his client acted under great pressure.
“He had nothing personally to gain from doing it, and it was an isolated incident completely inconsistent with who Simon is as a person. Simon is admitting his mistake, apologizing to those affected by his actions, and taking responsibility for what he did,” lawyer John Wunderli said.
With files from The Canadian Press