Saying he acted on orders from national team head coach Jae Su Chun, U.S. short-track speedskater Simon Cho admitted to having tampered with the skates of a Canadian athlete at the 2011 World Team Championships in Warsaw, Poland.

The sabotage, which involved skater Olivier Jean, kept his Canadian team, the bronze medalists, from contending for the gold or silver medal. It likely will have larger repercussions, including potential suspensions for Cho and Chun and a negative international image for U.S. Speedskating that will require significant damage control from the federation and U.S. Olympic Committee.


Simon Cho (blue) celebrates after winning the 2011 world title at 500 meters. (Leon Neal / AFP)

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Figure skaters to open first Sochi arena Cho, 20, a 2010 Olympic relay bronze medalist and 2011 individual world champion, called Jean to apologize Thursday night.

"I have done him a horrible wrong," Cho said.

Speaking this week with reporters from the Tribune, the Washington Post and National Public Radio, Cho said he always understood he was doing something wrong but felt compelled to follow Chun's order.

“I felt extremely guilty, and I felt terrible for what I had done immediately,” Cho said. “I was regretful and thought to myself I should have never done it.”

Cho, a native of South Korea, said Chun, also South Korean, asked him three times to “mess with somebody's skates.” Cho said he declined twice.

“The final time, he came to me not only as a coach but as an elder and a fellow Korean,” Cho said. “In Asian culture when an elder asks you to do something very difficult, to deny the request, no matter how ridiculous it might sound at the time … I had a lot of pressure from that.”

Chun was suspended as national team head coach Sept. 16, pending an investigation and arbitration hearing into allegations he had abused skaters physically and verbally as well as the tampering allegation. Chun has publicly denied the abuse allegations.

Asked about the tampering allegation, specified in an arbitration filing that seeks Chun's dismissal, the coach's lawyer called it an “irresponsible canard.”

“There is a lot to say about this erroneous allegation, but I am constrained by the arbitrator's instruction to maintain confidentiality about the evidence and the proceedings,” said the attorney, Russell Fericks, of Salt Lake City.

“At this stage, all I can say is Simon Cho is young and impressionable, and it is sad he feels compelled to support this irresponsible canard.”

The incident occurred March 20, 2011, the final day of the World Team Championships, where the Canadian and U.S. teams shared a locker room.

Cho recalls about 30 people coming in and out of the locker room, so it was hard to find a moment alone to commit the sabotage. When Cho acted, he was unaware of which Canadian's skate he had damaged with a device called a bending machine, which adjusts the curve of a blade.

“I was scared and panicky, so I picked up the first skate I saw,” Cho said.

Cho bent the blade enough that Jean had to withdraw during the meet's final event, the 5,000-meter relay. Given the nature of short track, the damage could have led to a dangerous crash.

“I want to apologize to Speedskating Canada, the Canadian team and most of all Olivier Jean,” Cho said.

Cho said he thinks Chun told him to tamper with the skates out of vengeance. In Cho's view, the coach was upset because he felt the Canadians had used tactics designed to hurt U.S. chances at a medal. The tampering took place after the U.S. team was out of medal contention.

In an email sent by his attorney, Cho said, “When Coach Chun first approached me to tamper with the Canadians' skates, I was with my teammate, Jeff Simon. We both said we wouldn't do it.

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