U.S. Olympic speedskater Simon Cho will boycott a hearing next week that could result in his receiving a lifetime ban from the sport, NPR has learned.
Cho is the short-track bronze medalist (Vancouver, 2010) who in October confessed to sabotaging the skate of a Canadian athlete during an international meet in Poland in 2011.
In a letter to the International Skating Union (ISU), Cho's father, Jay, says that his son's decision to skip the hearing "is not because Simon is not confident in his recollection of events."
Simon Cho claims he was ordered by former American short-track coach Jae Su Chun to tamper with the skate blade of Canada's Olivier Jean. Chun strenuously denies the allegation, but he resigned after revealing that he failed to report the incident after learning about it. Chun has been suspended from officially coaching in the U.S. through the 2014 Olympics.
The ISU is also investigating Chun for allegedly telling the American team to be "obnoxious and disruptive" to the Canadian skaters before the sabotage incident in Poland.
The June 13 hearing in Frankfurt, Germany, was called by the ISU Disciplinary Commission and will determine sanctions against both Cho and Chun. Cho and at least one witness asked that the hearing be held in the United States, perhaps in Salt Lake City, home to U.S. Speedskating and most of the principal participants and witnesses.
The ISU declined that request, noting in an e-mail to Jay Cho that Frankfurt is convenient for the ISU committee members who will attend the hearing. Volker Waldeck, the chairman of the ISU Disciplinary Commission, also said in the e-mail that "we have not chosen Salt Lake City for neutrality reason [sic] ..."
Waldeck also rejected a request to permit some witnesses to testify remotely, via video link.
Calling the hearing a "perfunctory official process" that is too narrowly focused and excludes key witnesses, Jay Cho says the session will not be able to decipher the truth.
Cho also objects to the ISU's insistence that the hearing remain closed to media and to anyone other than the principals and witnesses. There will also be no testimony under oath, according to Waldeck's e-mail.
"It seems that this bureaucratic hearing will end with some amount of disciplinary action against Simon and Mr. Chun without clear conclusion of the facts," Cho wrote to the ISU.
U.S. Speedskating (USS) conducted an investigation of the tampering incident and of allegations of verbal and physical abuse made against Chun by more than a dozen speedskaters. The investigators concluded that there was no "pattern" of abuse, and that testimony under oath and in an adversarial proceeding was necessary to determine the truth about the tampering incident.
Some skaters continue to press their abuse allegations involving former coach Chun; they have a "Code of Conduct" complaint pending before USS.
Cho and a key witness, fellow American skater Jeff Simon, have sought interview statements and other evidence gathered by the USS investigators, but a USS attorney declined to provide the information, according to an e-mail obtained by NPR.
"That information is privileged," wrote Steve Smith, a legal adviser to USS. "A number of people spoke [with investigators] on the condition of anonymity."
Jay Cho says the withheld statements and evidence are critical to his son's case.
Despite his absence from the hearing, Cho says that his son is "ready to accept any suspension that the ISU ... thinks is necessary."
Still, any decisions by the ISU about Cho and Chun can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a Swiss-based group that arbitrates disputes involving Olympic sports.
Update on June 5 at 9:41 a.m. ET. Chun Responds:
A spokesman for former American short track coach Jae Su Chun notes that Chun also requested a hearing in the United States but will abide by the ISU's decision to hold the hearing in Germany.
"We are willing to attend on any terms dictated to us," says spokesman Hoch Cho, who is not related to Simon Cho. "We feel that it is unfortunate that Mr. Simon Cho will not have the opportunity to cross examine the Coach, nor the Coach Simon Cho."
Hoch Cho says Chun also sought interview transcripts from the USS investigation and also urged the ISU to take testimony under oath.
Chun has been clear about the allegations about his behavior before the skate tampering incident in Poland.
"I did not encourage my team to be 'obnoxious', 'disruptive' or 'destructive' against the Canadian team," Chun said in a statement to the ISU in January.
"I did not tell Mr. Olivier Jean that 'I hope you lose,'" he added, in response to another allegation. Jean is the Canadian skater whose skate blade was bent by Simon Cho at the international meet in Poland in 2011. Chun once coached Jean and the Canadian short track team.
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