by Irvin Muchnick
At the behest of an Irish legislator, police there are reexamining the criminal cases of two-continent abusive coach George Gibney. The U.S. government is in final review of Concussion Inc.’s request for release of the files that might reveal who sponsored Gibney’s emigration here. And the Government Accountability Office is said to be finalizing a report that could guide meaningful legislative reform – adding fuel to the argument for clear oversight of and accountability for sexual assault cover-ups at USA Swimming and other Olympic institutions.
Yet for all this positive movement, Congressional action on the worst global abuse scandal in the history of sports remains a one-step-forward, two-steps-backward lurch of wishful hand-washing and denial.
Last month we told you that the minority staff holdovers at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce were doing worse than simply not following through on the work of their former boss, retired Congressman George Miller. They also were maintaining that they didn’t keep detailed records of the information sources gave investigators in extensive 2013-14 interviews.
We also reported that the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier – Miller’s unofficial successor as the House Democrats’ abuse watchdog – is telling witnesses seeking publication of their Miller testimony that Speier will not help make that happen; everyone, it seems, is just marking time until the GAO report.
Today we relay the experience of one of those witnesses: Eva Rodansky. Her story illustrates the disappointing passivity of even the presumed Capitol Hill friends of critics of USA Swimming and other U.S. Olympic Committee sports governing bodies, and offers examples of the breadth of information on youth athlete abuse that continues to be shielded from the American public.
Eva Rodansky was a speedskater, not a swimmer – which, in my mind, is all the more reason to bring the light of day to her testimony. Though historical and ongoing abuses at USA Swimming are profound and heinous, no single sport has a monopoly on these horror stories. Also, it is not only the direct victims who are in good position to expose them. (Miller’s Education and Workforce staff did gather testimony mostly about swimming, and did speak to victims as well as third-party witnesses.)
Rodansky’s career in her sport was tripped up by a backlash against her whistle-blowing. In November 2013 we wrote about Rodansky’s correspondence with Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the USOC. This followed a major article in Marie Claire magazine about the allegations that Andy Gabel, one of speedskating’s premier historical figures, molested skater Bridie Farrell. See our post at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8336 and the full Rodansky-Blackmun exchange at http://muchnick.net.rodansky.pdf.
A month earlier – on October 18, 2013 – Rodansky had spoken at length by phone and email with Miller staffers Scott Groginsky and Michael Zola.
On March 3 of this year, Rodansky told Brian Kennedy, general counsel for Education and Workforce, that she wanted her information made available to the public. Kennedy responded that the Miller staff had kept only “general notes” on her information, and “certainly nothing that we would consider releasing.”
Rodansky then sent Concussion Inc. a nearly 4,000-word paper on everything she said in 2013, along with backup. These are the highlights. (Before publishing this article, we invited Kennedy to comment. We also again contacted Congresswoman Speier’s staff, who Rodansky says told her that her information was useful “as background” leading up to the release of the GAO report.)
Rodansky calls her story “the experience of a third-party victim” of “sexual abuse at the highest level of US Speedskating.”
“Because of what happened to me in speedskating, and stories of other athletes in other sports, I believe that federal law that governs Olympic sports needs to be reformed to better protect athletes who are not covered under Title IX or under employment law, from sexual (and other) abuse,” Rodansky said.
“There must also be strongly enforced policies prohibiting romantic and sexual relationships between coaches and athletes. Athletes who are victimized must be able to have a basis in federal law for suing their national governing body (NGB) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) … if they suffer psychological/emotional harm as a result of being raped or molested by a coach or other sports authority figure (first-party victimization), or if their athletic career is adversely affected because an authority figure is romantically involved with a rival (third-party victimization) within such sports.”
Rodansky went on to say that her scenario highlighted the “old boys’ culture” of speedskating. In a very small sport with a reality of subjectivity overlaying the public projection of purely objective time standards – a committee vote, not trial times, determines Olympic team membership – the prevailing image of national governing body support of athletes is false:
“While Michael Crowe was Long Track High Performance director (2002-06), Andy Gabel, who has a history of inappropriate sexual contact with underage athletes, was president of US Speedskating. In his position of authority, Gabel would have been unwilling to make any moves against Crowe because of his own past issues. Also within the problem of ‘old boys’ culture’ is the culture of retaliation against athletes who speak out against unfairness within the sport.”
Rodansky started speedskating in 1988 with the West Michigan Speedskating Club. This was shortly after the 1988 Winter Olympics, in which Michael Crowe was the U.S. speedskating coach. On February 16, 1988, a New York Times article, headlined “Coach’s controversial tactics divide U.S. Speed Skating,” reported that American skaters were questioning the discretionary team-selection power given to Crowe, and his decision to use “subsequent events” (to the Olympic Trials) to determine the team.
At the 1992 long track age-group nationals, Rodansky, by then 15 years old, placed fourth in the Junior Girls division. Afterward, Crowe invited both Rodansky and the young woman who placed first (whom Rodansky identified by her initials, “A.S.”) to a summer training camp in Calgary, Canada.
At the August 1992 camp, Rodansky met female skater “C.B.,” in her early 20s. Later, according to Rodansky, C.B. would tell her that she was sexually involved with Crowe – as was another skater, “C.T.” (Crowe was married, and his wife had been a skater he had coached.)
At the end of the Calgary camp, Crowe invited both A.S. and Rodansky to a full-time training center in Butte, Montana. A.S. went; Rodansky declined.
Rodansky next trained with a coach named Stan Klotkowski; in 1994, her senior year in high school, she moved to Salt Lake City for that purpose. But Klotkowski “abandoned our team, saying he didn’t have time to coach us,” Rodansky said. “When I wrote a letter to US Speedskating at the end of that season, letting them know what happened, they labeled me a troublemaker and I was blackballed within the sport to the point where I had to spend six years away. I used that time to get my education, ending up with a master’s degree in biology in January 2001 – the point at which I made my comeback to speedskating.”
Rodansky said that by the time the 1998 Winter Olympics rolled around, C.B. and Crowe had broken off their sexual relationship, though C.B. was still training on a team he coached. According to C.B.’s later conversations with Rodansky, Crowe had started a romantic relationship with A.S. when she was in high school.
In the run-up to the 2002 Winter Games, sprint skater Chris Witty reportedly left Crowe’s training team at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, because of the attention Crowe was paying A.S. at the expense of other athletes he was supposed to be working with. During this time, Crowe was observed doing such things as buying A.S. flowers to cheer her up after a bad workout.
The male athletes also became bothered by the effect on the team of the affair between their coach and A.S. They called a meeting with their team’s sports psychologist, Doug Jowdy.
The scandal reached the radar of the USS leadership. Rodansky said that according to Bart Schouten, then national allround coach, the late Bill Cushman (then USS president) called Crowe and asked him point-blank: “Are you sleeping with A.S.?” Crowe denied it, and the matter was temporarily dropped.
In her comeback, Rodansky made her first World Cup team in October 2001. At the fall World Cup Trials, she won the 3000-meter race by a margin of six seconds. The consensus was that Rodansky’s potential lay in middle-distance races such as the 1500. Since A.S. was also a 1000- and 1500-meter skater, this would become a problem for Crowe.
Meanwhile, in the fall of 2001, US Speedskating called a meeting of athlete representatives to discuss Crowe’s future as long track sprint coach, in light of his affair with A.S. The decision was made to keep Crowe on through the Olympics later that winter, but then to “promote” him to long track high performance director. The effect was to remove Crowe from direct contact with athletes – but also make him the organization’s point person for talent identification, resource allocation, and Olympic team selection.
Despite the blatant conflict between the team’s interests and those of a woman widely acknowledged as Crowe’s mistress, he served that role from 2002 to 2006 – at the same time Andy Gabel was USS president.
In 2003-04, Rodansky and A.S. were both on Cushman’s national allround team. Rodansky, who was working 25 hours a week as a technician in a cancer research lab 22 miles from the training center, was directed to attend all practices without fail. Rodansky said A.S. was allowed to skip about a third of the practices for college classes and other commitments.
In the spring of 2005, Rodansky struck up a conversation with Norwegian coach Peter Mueller, a past American gold medalist and coach. She said Mueller told her that the rumor of a sexual relationship between Crowe and A.S. was “not a rumor – that’s a factoid!”
At a subsequent national team trip to Torino, Italy, two male skaters told Rodansky they saw Crowe and A.S. on the balcony of the team apartment, holding hands.
A few months later the rumor was that Crowe pulled strings to save A.S.’s “OJOB,” or set-aside job reserved for Olympics hopefuls through sponsor Home Depot. “She had finished 25th place at the World Sprints that year, so she was in the last position to be able to keep her OJOB,” Rodansky pointed out.
In the fall of 2005, the athletes learned the Olympic team selection criteria, which boiled down to this: USS waited for the results of the Fall World Cup and the US Nationals, and then a committee voted on “nominations.” The committee consisted of Crowe, two coaches who reported directly to him, and two other insiders.
Rodansky: “In order to overcome this corrupt and subjective team selection process, my coach and I confirm that I will have to ‘beat all the Chosen Ones’ in all of the possible competitions that could potentially be used for team selection. Therefore, I am forced to maintain a ‘peak’ for several weeks, throughout the Fall World Cup qualifier, Fall World Cups, and finally the US Nationals at the end of December.”
Despite this handicap, Rodansky posted a time at nationals that likely would have qualified her for a spot as an Olympic alternate. But she chose to retire, as a protest against the corrupt selection process.
Immediately after the 2006 Olympic team was announced (it included two male alternates who were flown to Torino but not used, and zero female alternates), the mother of Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. registered a protest. Swider-Peltz had finished behind Rodansky in the unofficial second alternate position.
The incredible kicker to this controversy – exposing incompetence as well as a rigged process – is that the American team would fail to fill their entries in the 1500 at Torino. Chris Witty and the next woman in line, Maggie Crowley, had been forced to pull out because of injuries.
At the 2006 Olympics, the US women’s long track team won zero medals.
In May 2006, Crowe was fired. He now coaches in Canada.
“At the time that ‘the affair’ was going on, I was not aware of all of the facts that came out later. By the time I knew enough to the point where I would have felt comfortable reporting it, it was too late to save my career from the resulting damage. Even if I had known the full extent of what was going on between Michael Crowe and A.S. during the time when it was affecting my career, there was no way I would have been able to afford an attorney to help me fight this (when I could barely even support my speedskating career as it were). Also, I believe there was no way I would have been able to win against US Speedskating and the USOC, had I chosen to fight them on this.”
You can slice and dice it. You can call it abuse of sex or abuse of power. You can call it an unacceptable process or an unacceptable outcome. By any measure, the U.S. Olympic movement and its associate national sport governing bodies, as currently constituted, harm the lives of many young people in both small and large ways.
Congress must act.