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(LEAD) Women's curling coach verbally abused athletes: officials

2014/03/28 17:55

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, dateline; UPDATES throughout with Gyeonggi Province's announcement)

SEOUL/SUWON, March 28 (Yonhap) -- An assistant coach of the national women's curling team has verbally abused his athletes and offered to resign from his post, officials said Friday.

A local media report said late Thursday that five curlers -- Kim Ji-sun, Gim Un-chi, Shin Mi-sung, Um Min-ji and Lee Seul-bee -- had threatened to leave their semi-pro club at Gyeonggi Provincial Government in protest of abusive practices by head coach Chung Young-sup and assistant coach Choi Min-suk.

Gyeonggi officials announced the findings of their investigation into these allegations in a press briefing, saying that Choi once yelled at his athletes during a competition in December 2012 in Italy, though Chung was not involved in any mishap.

The officials said they had spoken to the coach and four of the curlers, with Shin declining to take part in the investigation since she wanted to retire from the sport at any rate.

The officials said they spoke to the curlers and their family members late Thursday night and had a four-hour meeting with Choi on Friday.

According to the officials, Choi was giving a pep talk before the final at the World University Games in Italy when he yelled, "You should all be serious about this or you might as well all quit."

   Gyeonggi officials said Choi told them that he didn't think his words were abusive.

They added that Choi admitted to telling the curlers, "Do you like that I am holding your hand?" Choi said he didn't mean to sexually harass the athletes but offered to apologize if they felt that way, the officials said.

All five curlers competed for South Korea in the Sochi Winter Olympics last month, with Chung and Choi as their coaches. They were knocked out after the round robin stage, but their Olympic debut gave the niche sport newfound national recognition.

Then earlier this month in Canada, the five curlers teamed up again and reached the semifinals at the world championships

Choi and the athletes had contrasting accounts on allegations that the curlers were forced to share some of the prize money they'd received from the government for their Olympic and world championships performances.

The coach told Gyeonggi officials that the curlers were slated to receive about 7 million won (US$6,540) each and were each asked to donate 1 million won to help buy equipment for curling teams at middle and high schools.

Two of the curlers opposed the idea, and they told Gyeonggi officials that the coach scolded them for being selfish.

The curlers have threatened to quit, but Gyeonggi officials said they haven't received official resignation offers from the athletes.

"We apologize for such a disgraceful incident that happened just as curling was gaining popularity," said Hwang Jeong-eun, a spokeswoman for the provincial government. "We will look deeper into when these problems first occurred."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

(END)