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U.S. Skeleton Coach Accused of Sexual Harassment

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Just 36 days before the Winter Olympics open in Turin, Italy, the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation has suspended one of the team's top coaches. Female athletes on the skeleton team have accused their coach of sexual harassment. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN reporting:

Just a few weeks ago, American sledders were focused on the business of competing in World Cup races like this one in Lake Placid that serve as qualifiers for the Winter Olympics.

(Soundbite of races)

MANN: Skeleton racers rocketed down an icy track face-first on a tiny sled.

(Soundbite of sled)

MANN: But last week 2002 gold medalist Tristan Gale accused her coach, Tim Nardiello, of sexual harassment. She and fellow athlete Felicia Canfield claim that Nardiello made sexually explicit comments, touched women inappropriately and barged into their hotel room. The women say they first complained in 2002 and Nardiello was reprimanded by team officials. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation president Jim Shea, himself a former Olympian and father of skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea, says the timing of these latest allegations is devastating.

Mr. JIM SHAY (Bobsled and Skeleton Federation President): It kind of breaks my heart that I'm involved now in this but we want to make sure that we do the fair thing.

MANN: According to published reports, harassment accusations against Nardiello have been raised by non-athletes, as well, including two coaches. Two separate investigations are under way, one by the federation, the other by the US Olympic Committee. Tim Nardiello, who was a sled racer at two Winter Olympics in the 1980s, is on paid leave. He declined to be interviewed, but his attorney, Jim Brooks, says the coach denies all charges.

Mr. JIM BROOKS (Nardiello's Attorney): This is Tim's team and he wants to go with them, but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They've got to qualify at the World Cups. And Tim is ready to go; he's got a plane ticket.

MANN: These accusations come as coaches and athletes were nearing the end of a complex and often controversial process, deciding who will make the American team. Brooks accused athletes and parents of triggering a last-minute scandal after they were denied a spot.

Mr. BROOKS: This started by some disgruntled mother.

MANN: The mother of Tristan Gale sent a letter to sports officials, detailing alleged harassment. Gale denied the claims stem from disappointment that she won't be allowed to defend her gold medal in Turin. But US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation president Jim Shea says the timing of the women's accusations will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

Mr. SHEA: I think that's a question that the decision-makers, be it an arbitration panel, or a committee of the US BSF directors has to come up with.

MANN: This crisis caps a year of turmoil for the US sled team which captured three of America's 10 gold medals in 2002. Gold medalist Jimmy Shea, who has publicly supported Nardiello, dropped out of competition following leg surgery. In August, an out-of-control bobsled shattered the leg of top-ranked skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace. This scandal comes at a make-or-break moment for the American women. Based on their World Cup performance, the skeleton racers have earned only a single spot at the Turin Games. If the women compete well this weekend, in a final qualifier race in Germany, they can secure an Olympic berth for a second racer, but they leave for Europe tomorrow and no one knows who will coach their team. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Lake Placid, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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