SALT LAKE CITY - Olympian Simon Cho on Friday admitted tampering with Canadian Olivier Jean's skates, but claimed he did so under pressure from his coach. He called it the "biggest mistake of my life."
"I am deeply embarrassed and sad to confirm certain allegations that have been made in the arbitration demand brought by a group of my fellow speedskaters against U.S. Speedskating and the coaches," Cho said in a statement issued by his attorney Friday morning.
Cho's comments confirmed one allegation made in the arbitration demand that seeks to permanently remove U.S. coach Jae Su Chun. Chun has denied any wrongdoing but is suspended.
"The conduct at issue is repugnant and antithetical to the values of the Olympic Movement and inconsistent with Team USA's commitment to fair play," Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "We regret that an American athlete was involved, and intend to actively engage with US Speedskating to ensure that appropriate action is taken"
U.S. Speedskating has scheduled a press conference later Friday, presumably to discuss findings of an independent investigation of Chun.
Cho said the tampering occurred at the 2011 World Team Championships in Poland after he had already been eliminated from the competition. The sabotage prevented Jean's Canadian team from contending for the gold or silver medal at the competition. It finished with a bronze.
"Although the skate belonged to Olivier Jean, I had no intention to single him out," Cho said in the statement. "It was the biggest mistake of my life and one that I regret with all my heart. I apologize to Olivier and the Canadian team — I have great respect for Olivier and the Canadian team and have never held any bad feelings toward them. I also apologize to all those involved in speedskating for my poor judgment and bad sportsmanship."
The allegations are part a scandal involving Chun, also accused in an arbitration demand by a dozen national team members of "unchecked" verbal, psychological and physical abuse. He has denied the abuse charges as well.
Cho , who turns 21 in a few days, said he has been "honest and forthright" with all investigations into this matter and will continue to do so.
"I hope that I can make up for my mistake and continue to skate in the future," said Cho, a 2010 Olympic relay bronze medallist and 2011 individual world champion. Like Chun, he is a native of South Korea.
On Sunday, after failing to qualify for the U.S. fall World Cup team, Cho said he expected to be banned or suspended because of the charges.
Chun's lawyer, Russell Fericks, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.
But on Thursday he said it was his personal opinion that Cho is "young and impressionable."
"It is sad that he feels compelled to support the irresponsible canard that coach Chun instructed him to tamper with another skater's skate," Fericks said.
Cho's lawyer has scheduled a press conference in Salt Lake City on Friday morning to allow his client to discuss the incident.
"What Simon did was wrong and he knows it," lawyer John Wunderli said in a statement. "But I hope people will understand that he did it under great pressure from his coach, he had nothing personally to gain from doing it, and it was an isolated incident completely inconsistent with who Simon is as a person.
"Simon is admitting his mistake, apologizing to those affected by his actions, and taking responsibility for what he did. I have great appreciation for Simon and his family, the sacrifices they have made and the dedication they have shown, both in the sport of speed skating and in their family journey from Korea to the DC area to Salt Lake City."