Olympian short-track speedskater Simon Cho said Friday he agreed to a coach’s demand to tamper with a Canadian rival’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 attorney’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.
U.S. Speedskating has scheduled a press conference later Friday to discuss the findings of an independent investigation of Chun.
“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.”
Cho said he was embarrassed by his actions and called his decision to comply the “biggest mistake of my life” and one he regrets.
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He also said he apologized to Olivier Jean, whose skates he sabotaged at the 2011 World Team Championship in Poland, 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.
He 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 allegations are part a 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 said he 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 medalist 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 attorney, Russell Fericks, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.
But on Thursday he said it was his personal 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 attorney 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,” attorney John Wunderli said.
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