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Cho says coach pressured him to tamper with rival's skates

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The Canadian Press
10/5/2012 9:52:59 PM
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MONTREAL -- Canadian speedskater Olivier Jean expressed satisfaction with a personal apology from American rival Simon Cho, who said Friday that he agreed to a coach's demand to tamper with the Quebecer's skates.

Jean said that Cho contacted him via a message on Facebook to arrange a phone call on Thursday in which the American skater personally apologized for his actions, a day before talking about the allegations publicly.

"He wanted me to hear it from him first," Jean said after practice Friday evening at Maurice Richard Arena. "I really liked that honesty and that respect, and I was happy that he called and apologized."

"I always had a good relationship with Simon," Jean added."I've known him for many years."

Cho told a news conference in Salt Lake City, Utah that he agreed to coach Jae Su Chun's demand to tamper with Jean's stakes 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.

"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.

Cho said the tampering occurred at the 2011 World Team Championships in Poland after he had already been eliminated from the competition. The sabotage prevented the Canadian team from contending for the gold or silver medal at the competition. It finished with a bronze.

Cho said he was embarrassed by his actions and called his decision to comply the "biggest mistake of my life" and one he regrets, which Jean said he believes was a sincere sentiment.

"I think he truly regrets it," Jean said. "We don't know yet why he did it but he took full responsibility for what he did, and he told me he was ready to have some consequences."

Ian Moss, the chief executive of Speed Skating Canada, said in a statement that Cho showed "respect and humility" by admitting his mistake.

"It's a very unfortunate incident. It's not something that has ever happened in our sport. As Oliver said earlier: 'You can't change the past,"' Moss said.

Cho 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 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."

The allegations are part of a scandal involving Chun, also accused by a dozen national team members of "unchecked" verbal, psychological and physical abuse.

Cho has not signed 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 medallist 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 lawyer, 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 lawyer 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," lawyer John Wunderli said.

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With files from The Associated Press.

Simon Cho (Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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