by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
One week from today is the first splash of the 15th edition of an annual swim meet called the Paul Bergen Junior Invitational Championships in Beaverton, Oregon, just west of Portland, out of the aquatic center of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District. The hosting club, the Thunderbolts, is sponsored by Nike and headed by Linck Bergen, Paul Bergen’s son.
Congressman George Miller of California is investigating coach sexual abuse in USA Swimming and its cover-up across decades by top executives of the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Olympic Committee governing body. In the last couple of years the organization accelerated its prosecution-by-lifetime-ban of obscure coaches. And in recent months, with Congress and a requested Government Accountability Office report raising heat, swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus and his legal and PR apparatus have gotten around to officially throwing legendary predator coach Mitch Ivey off the pool decks.
But no abuser file simultaneously chills the bones and boils the blood quite like that of Paul Bergen, who is believed to have long resided in USA Swimming’s secret “flagged” list of bad guys.
Recently, 1972 gold medalist Deena Deardurff Schmidt, who spoke on ABC in 2010 of abuse by her youth coach, and also named Bergen as that coach in other forums, is getting the word out to journalists, including these writers, of exactly what that abuse entailed, starting when she was 11. By the time she was 15, Bergen was sexually molesting her in the darkness of the pool boiler room while he carried on a running stroke-coaching monologue as they viewed other swimmers through an underground window.
Deena’s courage in coming forward, yet again, in the hope of protecting athletes of another generation has inspired new Bergen witnesses in two other states. More on them shortly.
Meanwhile, the Paul Bergan meet proceeds — but did Bergen’s name just get edited out by the nervous swimming powers? The evidence is mixed.
The first issue of the Thunderbolt club’s slick monthly magazine, The Current, was published in January, and it clearly labeled last December’s event “the 14th Paul Bergen Junior International Championships,” and even included a photo and caption of Bergen’s celebrity sighting there. (We previously uploaded the facsimile of the magazine to http://muchnick.net/bergen.pdf.) But the club site now seems to be calling its upcoming event only the “Thunderbolt” Junior Internationals.
Other swimming sites, however, continue to use the Bergen name. USA Swimming would like nothing better than for us to go on a wild goose chase focusing the public’s attention on if and when the name was changed, rather than the base question of why this predator remains on the loose and unaccounted for, along with a generation of highly paid enablers.
The Thunderbolts have not responded to multiple emails requesting whether the name of the meet was changed, and when.
KeJuan Wilkins, the Nike corporation’s top media relations executive, also has not responded to redundant emails.
Doug Menke, general manager of local taxpayer-funded Tualatin Hills Parks and Rec, supplied us with a public information request form so that we can apply to acquire a copy of the district’s pool rental agreement with the Thunderbolts. Menke did not answer a request for comment on the agency’s participation in harboring and honoring a child rapist.
We hope Representative Miller’s Democratic colleague on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Suzanne Bonamici, is watching closely and taking measure of the shame the Paul Bergen event is attaching to the good people of Oregon’s 1st Congressional District.