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Sunday, September 30, 2012
Skater Simon Cho expects ban

Associated Press

KEARNS, Utah -- Olympic bronze medalist Simon Cho said Sunday he expects to be suspended or banned because of skate tampering allegations.

The reigning national short track champion, Cho made the comments after failing to earn a spot on the fall U.S. World Cup team. He declined to say if the allegations are true, but is preparing for the worst.

The allegations are part of a scandal involving U.S. coach Jae Su Chun, who is accused in a demand for arbitration of ordering Cho to sabotage a Canadian rival's skate at last year's World Team Championships. A dozen national team members also have accused Chun of unchecked verbal, physical and psychological abuse.

Chun has denied the charges and remains on administrative leave pending an investigation by an independent agency.

On Sunday, 10 racers secured spots on the World Cup team. Jessica Smith, Sarah Chen, Lana Gehring, Emily Scott and Alyson Dudek qualified for the women. JR Celski, Chris Creveling, Kyle Carr, Jeff Simon and Travis Jayner qualified for the men.

Whether all accept the spots depends on what happens with Chun and the scandal that has divided the team.

Four of the five men who qualified Sunday skate for the splinter FAST Team, and Simon said he likely would not participate in World Cup events if Chun remains as coach.

Carr remains undecided.

Celski, who won three races over the four-day event, said he will participate either way.

"I think the most important thing this season for me and the team is to have experience in international competition," he said.

The only male member of the National Racing Program to qualify for the World Cup team is Creveling.

On the flip side, the top three women qualifiers skate for the national program. Smith and Gehring have publicly backed Chun.

Smith acknowledged Sunday that she would be upset "if my support is gone" with Chun's removal.

The skaters have until Oct. 7 to accept the spots, and some leeway even after that. Two discretionary spots will be chosen next month.

Either way, the athletes hope to know more within 10 days.

The independent investigation by the New York-based law firm of White & Case is due out this week.

An arbitration hearing that seeks Chun's permanent removal is set for Oct. 8 in Salt Lake City.

Cho will testify at that hearing and said he will be forthright and truthful just as he was with the investigation ordered by U.S. Speedskating.

He acknowledged the distractions of the past few weeks contributed to his poor showing at the competition at the Utah Olympic Oval. He was ninth overall.

"But it's my job as an athlete to make sure I stay composed and focused when I need to. I wasn't doing such a good job of that," said Cho, a week shy of his 21st birthday.

Knowing that his reputation already has been severely damaged has been difficult to handle.

"I went from being Simon Cho, Olympic medalist and world champion to the guy that supposedly tampered with somebody's skates," he said. "That was very damaging to me and my family. Now I have to be a class act about it and do the best I can to portray how my family raised me."

He said he expect to be penalized "whether it's a suspension or ban" and has to "prepare myself for the consequences and take responsibility."

So why would he expect punishment if the charges are only allegations at this point?

He pointed to Chun being suspended based on allegations.

"People (think) where there's smoke there's fire," he said, noting the stories being told by those involved don't match up. "I'm confident the investigators will get to the bottom of this."

Not everyone is.

"People within the organization have known of (Chun's abusive) behavior and were supporting it or ignoring it," said Allison Baver, among those who signed a grievance and the demand for arbitration.

She was eighth overall in competition for the World Cup team.

Simon said the coaching change is desperately needed, otherwise he never would have been able to come back from a broken back suffered last year -- an injury he blamed on overtraining ordered by Chun.

He said the coaching by the FAST Team, including Alex Izykowski, was dramatically different as evidenced by his personal success.

Simon had to qualify for time trials and was very nervous entering the week.

"I didn't have that confidence that I used to have, especially being gone 18 months," Simon said. "I'm getting that feeling back. I didn't anticipate doing so well. I'm very glad that I came and I did it, especially here. I'm ready. I know I'm ready to attack at these World Cups. ... I'm back. I'm healthy. I'm angry. I want to do this."

He feels bad that Cho won't have that chance.

He believes Cho deserves leniency if the tampering allegations are proven.

"When you have someody with such authority and power telling you 'do this or there will be consequences,' you can't just dismiss that altogether," Simon said.

Cho, who fled to France for three months to escape the stress of the situation, has set his sights on the December trials that will determine who skates in the second half of the World Cup season and World Championships.

"I'm thankful for the little support I do have now," Cho said. "It may not be much, but at this point it means everything."

Scott, who supported the grievance but pulled out of the arbitration, feels for Cho.

"He is my teammate, my boyfriend and I just let him know I'm here and will continue to be here for him," said Scott, who had a pair of second-place finishes this week. "It's really sad. He is an Olympic medalist and his name is known and nobody wants to go out with these accusations. No matter what, he has to move on."