US Speedskating announced Tuesday it has named Guy Thibault as the new head coach for its beleaguered short track National Racing Program. Thibault takes over at the end of December.
Wednesday, the coach whose firing and suspension led to the opening filled by Thibault is to begin training some of the short track team’s best skaters.
A group that includes 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Lana Gehring of Glenview, the team’s best woman skater last year, three-time world team member Jessica Smith and promising 17-year-old John-Henry Krueger is willing to pay out of its own pockets to work with Jae Su Chun and his former assistant, Jun Hyung Yeo.
Good luck with the hope that the hiring of Thibault will patch a rift that has split the current group of elite U.S. short track skaters into opposing camps – the Chun supporters and those who filed a grievance alleging he abused them.
Chun lost his job because he failed to report knowing that U.S. skater Simon Cho had tampered with the blade of a Canadian rival at the 2011 World Team Championships.
An investigation into Chun’s behavior found no direct evidence Chun had asked the athlete to tamper with the skates, as Cho claims, or that the coach had engaged in physical or mental abuse.
The new Chun group will be called Salt Lake International. It is the second group of skaters that has broken away from the National Racing Program after a spring and summer of friction between athletes and the federation leadership.
Both the National Racing Program and a splinter group called the FAST team train at the 2002 Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah. The Chun group has bought ice time at a Salt Lake County recreation center.
The terms of US Speedskating’s settlement with Chun do not prevent him from coaching in the United States. He cannot coach USS teams, at USS-sanctioned clubs and at USS events and would get no coaching credential at events governed by either the national or international federations.
Hyonmyong Cho, a Salt Lake City investment advisor and friend of Chun, has organized the SLI team and is helping defray some expenses. He said both Chun and Yeo are donating their coaching services between now and the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The U.S. women clearly have been affected more by the internecine warring than the men.
No U.S. woman has made a final in the first three World Cup events of the season, and the women’s relays have done poorly. Gehring’s performance has been the most below par: after winning five individual World Cup medals (two gold) and a world bronze last season, she has finished ninth twice, 14th and 20th in four World Cup races this fall.
“I would love to train with him (Chun) again if that opportunity came to me,” Gehring recently told the Tribune. “He made me the skater I am now.”
In a Tuesday telephone interview, US Speedskating executive director Mark Greenwald sidestepped the question of whether having some skaters return to Chun would only further exacerbate existing frictions among the skaters.
“As an organization, we have an obligation to manage and lead the sport appropriately and encourage people to follow rules and standards, and we have tried to do that,” Greenwald said. “We can’t restrict athletes from choosing to pursue a path some may feel can get them to their destination.
“We are not going to act to support that (SLI) in any way. We are in the process of putting back into place the National Racing Program with top-level coaches.”
The hiring of Thibault, 48, is the first step in that direction. A two-time Olympian in long track skating for Canada, the native of Quebec City was USS high performance director for both long and short track from 2006 through 2010 and a high performance advisor to the German Speedskating Federation since then.
Whether he has the needed skills in marriage counseling remains to be seen.
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