OLYMPICS

Olympic Speedskater Details Alleged Abuse From National Team Coach

Aug 25, 2020, 8:19 PM | Updated: 8:21 pm
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Short Track Speed Skaters Thomas Hong, John-Henry...
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Short Track Speed Skaters Thomas Hong, John-Henry Krueger, Lana Gehring and Aaron Tran of the United States train ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 7, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A short track speedskater who competed in the 2018 Olympics declined a spot on the national team this year because of what he described as verbal and emotional abuse from the head coach.

“It crossed the line from being a tough coach to one that was being disrespectful and rude to the athletes she was trying to bring up,” said Thomas Hong.

Hong developed a love for the sport when he was just 4 years old. It wasn’t long before he was competing on the national and world stage.

Then, in 2018, a dream came true when he returned to the country where he was born to compete on the U.S. Olympic speedskating team in South Korea.

“It really was something special,” he said.

His enthusiasm for the sport continued when U.S. Speedskating hired the well-known Wilma Boomstra as the new short track speed coach for the U.S. national team. It would be her second time in the position. The first time from 1993 to 1995.

“Initially I was very excited for her to be my coach,” Hong said.

He had spent some time training with Boomstra at a camp in Los Angeles and the Netherlands, but his excitement did not last.

“Our communication effectively stopped,” he said. “No matter what I brought up she just came back to me and said, ‘you’re doing this wrong. This is your fault.’ And that’s where it broke down.”

Hong is one of eight skaters who shared his experience with the Washington Post, describing Boomstra as emotionally, mentally and verbally abusive.

“I’ve had experiences with coaches yelling and coaches being tough on me,” he said. “I always felt like there was a level of respect that the coaches had for me.

“Where it crossed the line for me was, I felt that coach Boomstra was no longer having my best interest at heart and she was actively discouraging me from doing well.”

According to the Post, three skaters filed complaints with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a group meant to protect amateur athletes from abuse. But the complaints were forwarded to U.S Speedskating, which investigated the claims and found Boomstra guilty of “emotional misconduct,” “threatening communication” and “bullying behavior.”

In an email to the Post, Boomstra said she does “not feel my interactions with skaters has been threatening in any way,” adding, “I’m disappointed that some athletes have perceived my interactions with them to be negative.”

Hong said Boomstra “expressed to me that it was always to motivate us.” Instead, he said, “It really left me discouraged. To go to training every day and to be at odds with someone that’s writing my program and who effectively has authority over the way I’m skating, it was very tough to be in that environment.”

Boomstra remains the program’s head coach, but U.S Speedskating has implemented measures, including having a third person at all coach-athlete meetings and having ongoing “team culture meetings.” Boomstra is also required to meet with a sports psychologist and have quarterly evaluations with U.S. Speedskating.

“Those measures, while they are a step in the right direction, I just do not believe that they are strong enough,” Hong said. “I don’t think I would put myself in that environment again.”

Hong declined his invitation to train with the national team in Utah this year. But he hasn’t ruled out a run to compete again on the world stage.

“Because I’m not formally training it’s hard to picture myself at the Olympics. But that being said, I feel that If I really became determined to really get myself in skating shape and wanted to make the team, I feel like I can make that switch,” he said. “I think there’s some untapped potential that I never really got to but I guess that’s up in the air.”

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Olympic Speedskater Details Alleged Abuse From National Team Coach