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Nine U.S. speedskaters, including two Olympic bronze medalists, have come to the defense of accused short-track coach Jae Su Chun and blasted their complaining teammates for "baseless allegations of abuse that are nothing more than a false attack on his character."
"At a time when we should be focused on how we are going to take on the world, we are instead forced to defend our coach," skaters Lana Gehring and Jessica Smith wrote in a statement they released Tuesday that was signed by seven fellow athletes.
Gehring was a bronze medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, along with signatory Kimberly Derrick. Gehring and Smith were silver medalists at the 2012 World Championships.
The statement illustrates a great fracture in the American short-track team that has developed because of the recent allegations of verbal, physical and psychological abuse by Chun and assistant coaches Jun Hyung Yeo and Jimmy Jang.
Gehring and Derrick are among five women who won bronze in the women's relay in Vancouver, while relay teammates Allison Baver and Aly Dudek are among the 14 active skaters who filed a series of complaints against the coaches in recent weeks.
Two-time Olympic medalist Katherine Reutter also was on the relay team, but has not publicly taken a side.
"I'm incredibly sad over this whole matter," she said through a spokeswoman. "I believe U.S. Speedskating is conducting a fair investigation and I hope we can put this matter behind us so me and my fellow skaters can have a great season."
U.S. Speedskating has suspended Chun while international law firm White & Case conducts an investigation into the charges, and placed Yeo in charge of the national-team program. Jang is no longer coaching within U.S. Speedskating, a spokeswoman said.
An attorney for the athletes who made the complaints said he filed Tuesday for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association, to seek a resolution before the start of qualifying races Sept. 27 at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns to determine which skaters will compete in four upcoming World Cup competitions.
Attorney Ed Williams said he is worried the investigation will not conclude before the races, and that skaters fear having to train and travel with Chun or Jeo if the men are still allowed to coach.
A date for arbitration has not been set, Castellano said.
Gehring and Smith wrote that they have never seen any of the coaches abuse a skater, "and we know these men are not capable of abuse."
"We've spent the past six and four years, respectively, with him as our coach," they wrote, "and we have never seen the behavior described in the allegations."
The skaters said they are cooperating with the investigation, and believe the coaches will be cleared.
"We understand that not every athlete will be happy with Jae Su's training style or his program," they said. "No coach is ever able to make every athlete happy; nor should that be the coach's primary concern. But Coach Chun does [as] fine a job as anyone of balancing the grueling demands of training at the Olympic level with the personal care and development of his athletes."