(via Noelle Neu/wikipedia)
The 2012 US Single Distance Short Track Championships start tomorrow morning in Salt Lake City, UT. The best short track skaters in the country are vying for spots on the US World Cup Team that will head to the ISU World Cup circuit next month.
The competition itself has been overshadowed by the media firestorm surrounding allegations of physical, mental and verbal abuse by US Speedskating’s head short track coach Jae Su Chun, who has been placed on administrative leave after admitting to pushing a skater (earlier coverage). Chun denies all allegations of abuse.
Today, we seek to answer some of the questions that fans of speedskating might have before the start of the championships.
Ok, first things first, seriously, what’s up with this whole scandal thing?
Like almost all national governing bodies (NGBs), US Speedskating (USS) maintains a national team training program. The national team is often made up of the top eight or so men and women who train and travel together nearly every day of the year. The man who was hired to be head coach, Jae Su Chun, comes from South Korea – a nation that is arguably the best short track skating country on earth, but a nation in which the coaching style is often described as “brutal.”
Chun, who led the US Short track program to it’s most successful Olympics ever at the 2010 Vancouver Games, has been widely known in the sport for grueling, seemingly endless workout days. Approximately five months ago fourteen members of the US National Short Track Team, including Olympic medalists Allison Baver, J.R. Celski, Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone, left the National Team program (some skaters called it a ‘strike’) protesting the heavy-handed methods of coach Chun.
The departing skaters joined the “F.A.S.T Program” offered by the Utah Olympic Oval and coached by Alex Izykowski. The F.A.S.T Program is similar to a very high-level club program.
This move in and of itself was somewhat shocking. It’s a bit like two thirds of an NBA team leaving to go train with the local college team.
So, is that it? Coach Chun was just really hard on them?
Unfortunately that was not it. Even though the protesting skaters on the team gave up funding and training support when they left the national team, it was certain that many of them would qualify to compete in the upcoming World Cup season after this weekend’s championships. Because of budgetary and logistical limits, US Speedskating can only send the national team coaches to World Cup events.
This meant that any skater that quit the national team program and qualified for world cups would again be under the direction of Chun who was head coach. A little over a week ago the protesting skaters launched a huge bombshell – formal allegations of mental, physical, and verbal abuse by Chun.
The skaters submitted official complaints to US Speedskating, the USOC, and requested immediate arbitration to prevent Chun from traveling with the World Cup Team.
Jeez, that’s terrible for all involved. Was that it?
Unfortunately again, no. In the “Demand for Arbitration” it was alleged that Olympic medalist and World Championship gold medalist Simon Cho had sabotaged a foreign athlete’s skates at the 2011 World Teams Championships under orders from Chun. This is an incredibly serious allegation and could result in sanctions from the International Skating Union (ISU) against Chun, Cho, and/or US Speedskating.
And there is one more thing. A separate group of skaters, notably including world cup medalists Lana Gehring and Jessica Smith, have written a letter in support of Chun denying that he is abusive.
This weekend these two groups, along with all of the other top skaters in the US are racing for spots on the US World Cup team.
Who will be competing?
This weekend will feature the best short track skaters in the US, with the notable exception of 2010 Olympic bronze and silver medalist Katherine Reutter, who is recovering from hip surgery.
On the ladies side, Lana Gehring, Jessica Smith, and Alyson Dudek are all returning world cup skaters, Olympic medalist Allison Baver is also making a comeback . For the men, JR Celski is always one of the top athletes to watch and it’s sure to be a dogfight for the final world cup spots. Simon Cho seems a certain lock for the team, Travis Jayner, Jordan Malone, the Krueger brothers and several others all have a great shot at bringing home medals.
For full competitors list, click here.
So what’s the schedule for this weekend?
Tomorrow the 9- and 4- lap time trials are held, with regular racing beginning Friday. Here is the full schedule via US Speedskating:
Thursday, 27 September 2012
10:00am: 9 Lap Time Trial (and re-skates)
1:50pm: 4 Lap Time Trial (and re-skates)
Friday, 28 September 2012
REPECHAGE: 10:30am: 1500m (1) Repechage Qualifying rounds, 500m (1)
Repechage Qualifying rounds
FINALS: 1:00pm: 1500m (1) Semifinals and finals, 500m (1) Quarterfinals,
Semifinals, and Finals
Saturday, 29 September 2012
REPECHAGE: 10:30am: 1000m (1) Repechage Qualifying rounds, 1500m (2)
Repechage Qualifying rounds
FINALS: 1:00pm: 1000m (1) Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals, 1500m
(2) Semifinals and Finals
Sunday, 30 September 2012
REPECHAGE: 9:30am: 500m (2) Repechage rounds, 1000m (2) Repechage
FINALS: 12:00pm: 500m(2) Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals, 1000m
(2) Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals Relay
I’m not in Salt Lake City, can I watch?
Yes! Tony Chung, owner of ShortTrackHD.com will be in Salt Lake broadcasting the entire event live. You can watch the video HERE, and if you watch please consider making a small donation HERE – even internet broadcasting isn’t free!