“They forgot about the rule that was passed in 2006?” Chea said in a telephone interview. “Out of the blue they bring it up. And by the time they bring it up, it’s too late. We couldn’t do anything. So I could go [to worlds] last year, but I can’t go this year.”
The U.S. junior championships, which were held last weekend at the Prince William Ice Center in Woodbridge, is a three-day competition. Day One consists of qualifying. The fastest 16 skaters advance to Group 1 races the following day, with the top four finishers earning a spot at worlds. Slower qualifiers advance to Group 2 races and have no shot at worlds.
According to the complaint filed Monday with the USOC, race organizers informed athletes Jan. 20, three days before junior nationals, that they needed to present proof of U.S. citizenship upon checking in. Dominion Speedskating, which trains in Reston and for which Jeong Su Ha competes, sought clarification and was told that non-citizens with green cards also would be eligible.
At registration there was no verification of citizenship status, the complaint said.
After Friday’s time trials, Jeong Su, who qualified among the top 16, was told by a U.S. Speedskating official that he couldn’t compete in the Group I race because he wasn’t eligible for international competition. The official later explained to Dominion Speedskating secretary Regina Hart that U.S. Speedskating hadn’t submitted Jeong Su’s name to the ISU in time because they had been aware of the requirement “for 36 hours.”
The next morning, shortly before the Group 1 races were to start, six Korean American skaters were called to a meeting with three U.S. Speedskating officials and asked about their citizenship.
According to three people who attended, it quickly escalated to a heated exchange between skating officials and angry, bewildered parents and weeping junior skaters.
“It was very emotional on the skaters’ part,” said Hart, who attended as an advocate for one the club’s skaters. “They were told that morning — as their group was warming up to race — that suddenly they could not skate. It was also rather angry. One parent who was a citizen said she was offended that her daughter was called to a meeting that had nothing to do with her. Another parent stormed out saying he was a citizen, and it was discrimination.”
The others, green-card holders who had earned spots in the Group 1 races, were given the option of competing in the Group 2 races, with no chance at earning a spot at worlds.
“It was very poorly handled all around,” Hart said
As of Wednesday, the skaters were awaiting word from the USOC about whether there’s any way they can still to qualify for worlds. Castellano, the U.S. Speedskating spokesperson, wasn’t optimistic.
“There is no solution that will make everybody happy,” Castellano said. “If you re-run the competition and different people win, those people are going to be upset that their original result didn’t stand. I’m not saying there isn’t a way to find common ground. But re-running the competition will open up another set of issues.”