by Irvin Muchnick
We’ve been reporting how the removal of John Ruger as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s athlete ombudsman, a statutory position, coincided with more heated investigations this year of sexual abuse cover-up by the USOC’s national governing bodies, or NGB’s – notably USA Swimming and U.S. Speedskating.
Given the number of cases and level of publicity, we can surmise that Ruger had more than passing familiarity with the swimming allegations, and that his ability to tell all in the probes of Congressman George Miller and several offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation could have been behind the timing of his retirement and a severance package whose details are not yet known.
But with respect to USS, we can say a good deal more. John Ruger must know all about the speedskating body’s Andy Gabel problem – which was also its Mike Crowe problem. Here’s why.
From the 1990’s leading up to the 2002 Winter Games, Crowe was the national speedskating sprint coach. “Throughout the sport, it was known that he was having an affair with one of the female athletes he was coaching,” former speedskater Eva Rodansky told us. “And when the team moved to Salt Lake City in preparation for the Olympics, this problem was coming to the attention of the sport’s leadership. The men Crowe was coaching had a big problem with the affair and its effect on the team. All this even though he was coaching several top competitors, some of whom would go on to win medals.”
In the late fall of 2001, a meeting was called by the speedskating athlete representatives. The only agenda item was whether Crowe should stay or go as national team coach.
The decision was to keep Crowe through the Olympics. Afterwards, he was kicked upstairs to the position of long track high performance director. The idea was that he no longer would be in direct contact with athletes.
Unfortunately, this promotion resulted in another problem: Crowe’s emergence as the organization’s point person for elite team selection, talent identification, and allocation of significant resources. This also put him in substantial charge of the selection of the 2006 Olympic team.
Of course, while Crowe was serving as high performance director, the president of USS was Gabel, who is accused of molesting, in the eighties and nineties, two named underage skaters, Bridie Farrell and Nikki Ziegelmeyer, plus unnamed others. With forked tongue, Gabel has owned up to “mistakes” in his “consensual” relationships. USS has not heeded calls for Gabel’s formal lifetime ban or for kicking him out of the sport’s Hall of Fame. (The public petition on Gabel is at https://www.change.org/p/u-s-olympic-speedskating-board-of-directors-remove-andy-gabel-from-the-speedskating-hall-of-fame-and-revoke-his-lifetime-membership-in-u-s-speedskating?share_id=ACzrfCXWkM&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition.)
Back to Eva Rodansky’s account of the athlete ombudsman perspective on the Crowe disaster: “There is no way John Ruger could have escaped knowing about Crowe’s affair with one of his speedskaters, and the subsequent fallout across a period of four years.”
It seems equally unlikely that Ruger could have avoided sharing this knowledge with federal investigators.
It’s a lock that the USOC and USS would be eager to keep that from happening.