Clarification to This Article
The photo caption accompanying an article about speedskating coach Kim Dong-Sung should have noted that the pictures were taken more than a year earlier during practice sessions of the Potomac Speedskating Club.

Local coach accused of corporal punishment against youth speedskaters

Kim Dong-Sung, an Olympic gold medalist, owns and operates a thriving club in northern Virginia known as DS Speedskating.
Kim Dong-Sung, an Olympic gold medalist, owns and operates a thriving club in northern Virginia known as DS Speedskating. (Tom Roff)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011

A local speedskating coach inflicted corporal punishment and verbal abuse on young skaters during recent stints with clubs in Virginia and Maryland, according to "numerous and credible" allegations made to U.S. Speedskating and recounted in a July 2010 warning letter to the coach from the organization. Yet the coach continues to teach children and adults in the Washington area and retains his coaching accreditation.

Kim Dong-Sung, an Olympic gold medalist from South Korea who owns and operates a thriving club in northern Virginia known as DS Speedskating, used hockey sticks, skate-blade guards, hammers, hand timers and other implements to strike skaters on the buttocks, stomach and hands, according to six skaters who said they were victims of abuse or witnesses to it.

Six other skaters, parents or officials provided The Post with second-hand accounts of corporal punishment allegations, saying children or friends who were struck confided in them. Most sources for this story declined to be named for fear the disclosures would subject them or their children to retribution in the tight-knit world of short track skating.

"If we didn't meet expectations, he would usually punish us in some way," one youth skater said during a recent interview. "He took a friend and me into the locker room and hit our butts repeatedly with a hockey stick. . . . No one was there to witness it. . . . It's not something you want to tell to the world. It's not real pleasing to tell people."

After receiving reports of the abuse allegations last spring, U.S. Speedskating, the national governing body for the sport, issued a sternly worded warning letter but took no further action against Kim, who is most famous in the United States for losing a gold medal to Apolo Anton Ohno at the 2002 Winter Games because of a penalty.

The organization could have suspended Kim or banned him from sanctioned meets, but officials say they were hamstrung in large part because of a lack of concrete evidence; the alleged victims never called the police.

Kim, the subject of front-page Post profile in March 2009, categorically denied the allegations during a 30-minute interview at Reston's SkateQuest this month, saying he never hit or verbally abused anyone. He cited U.S. Speedskating's inaction and the lack of police involvement as evidence that the charges had no merit.

"If these things are happening, it is not [a reporter] I am going to confront; it is a policeman," Kim said through an interpreter. Though he speaks English, Kim preferred to conduct the interview in his native Korean. "There is no truth in it. . . . It's easy for them to spread rumors about me because everybody knows me. . . . Nobody knows them."

Months after the charges were levied, 32 parents and associates signed a letter supporting Kim, and several parents at his current club told The Post the allegations were conceived by disgruntled parents motivated by politics, jealousy and financial disagreements.

The majority of the people who signed the letter had Korean surnames, suggesting that cultural differences might have been at least partly behind the divided opinion about the coach. Although corporal punishment is no longer considered an accepted practice in short track skating, several officials and skaters said, South Korean-born coaches are widely considered more demanding and discipline-oriented than their American counterparts.

Some parents of Korean descent complained privately about Kim's tactics but were reluctant to accuse him publicly for fear of humiliating him, hurting their children's skating careers or tarnishing the image of South Korean coaches in the United States, several people interviewed for this story said. The sources for this story were of both Korean and non-Korean ancestry.

Teaching or abuse?

Kim, 31, is considered a megastar in South Korea; he won 23 world championship medals and two Olympic medals during his career. Because of his fame and stature, when he came to the United States after retiring in 2002, he was in great demand as a coach. In 2007, he settled in Laurel and took a position at the now-defunct Wheaton Speedskating Club.

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