by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
The evil stars are aligning as the fight escalates to hold USA Swimming’s leadership accountable and to end a generation of abuse culture and toxic cover-up. While Congressional investigators grill swimming chief Chuck Wielgus and U.S. Olympic Committee officials, a celebration takes place in Portland, over the weekend of December 13-15, for arguably the most gruesome of the sport’s sex-criminal legends: Hall of Fame coach Paul Bergen.
The world is watching. It includes Deena Deardurff Schmidt, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist who is the most public of Bergen’s victims.
The community of activists who got blindsided earlier this year by Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of California’s SB 131 needs to get to work on the Paul Bergen Junior Invitational Championships — at the publicly funded Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District aquatic center, under the aegis of the Nike-sponsored Thunderbolts swim club, whose head coach is Linck Bergen, Paul’s son.
The event takes place in Oregon’s First Congressional District, which is represented by Suzanne Bonamici. She is a Democratic colleague of California’s George Miller on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Miller has requested an audit of amateur sports organizations’ handling of sexual abuse complaints, and spearheaded what is becoming a wider and more intense probe of USA Swimming and its sister groups.
Through an intermediary, Deena Schmidt revisited and elaborated for Concussion Inc. painful memories of what Bergen did to her, starting when she was 11 years old. Her story, when recounted in full, will curdle the blood of any parent, any sentient human being. There were others molested by Bergen, too.
Deena told us of an under-surface pool filter room which, through a side window, doubled as a pool viewing room. Bergen would critique the strokes of the swimmers in the water while he hid with Deena behind the filters and physically violated her. This dark scene evokes “the boardroom,” the feared storage area where Irish coach Derry O’Rourke used to work his depravity on his child athletes, as described in Justine McCarthy’s book Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals.
In her email, Deena Deardurff Schmidt commented that Paul Bergen “controlled everything with fear and intimidation…. I wanted to keep a journal but he made us all turn the journals in to him so he could read them and I knew I had to just write what he wanted.”