The fallout continues from speedskater Bridie Farrell accusations that she was sexually abused by a fellow skater fifteen years ago. On Lake Effect last week, Farrell came forward publicly for the first time with the story of her repeated abuse by fellow skater Andy Gabel, when she was 15 and he was 33. Gabel went on to medal in the Olympics, and later served as President of US Speedskating and on the board of the International Skating Union.
Gabel did not respond to our repeated requests for comment. But Friday evening, Gabel issued statements to both the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which he admitted to what he termed a “brief, inappropriate relationship,” and apologized to her and for bringing negative attention to the sport.
Sunday, Gabel announced that he was resigning from his positions with the International Skating Union and US Speedskating.
“I think it’s great – for Andy to ‘fess up to what he did,” Farrell tells Lake Effect’s Mitch Teich, “I can’t even begin to characterize it. That aspect makes me happy, and I think that it’s good that he stepped down from the ISU and US Speedskating."
Farrell, who trains at Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center, says she has not heard from Gabel directly, and she believes that’s significant. “He apologized through the media,” she says, “but in the apology, he doesn’t say my name. And he didn’t come forward and apologize or admit that it was wrong until everyone knew about it. I mean, he’s had fifteen years to apologize.”
In her original Lake Effect interview about the abuse, Farrell stressed that her fundamental goal in coming forward was to change the culture of sports – to make them safer for young athletes. She thinks that already starting to happen. “I know for speedskating, this is a big jolt to the sport,” she says. “I think it has already started to change the current culture.” She says the conversations she’s seen on social media show that greater awareness exists, and that people are willing to talk about it.
And she believes that she has already made a difference. “I feel I changed the world in a very huge way for a lot of people that will never even know. I mean, it’s truly one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever had.”
Meanwhile, Farrell says it’s too soon to appreciate how the resolution of this story will change her own life, going forward. “It was a shock to everyone that heard it. But I have been living with it for fifteen years.” In her interview last Thursday, Farrell referenced the “dark times” she’d had to get through to be able to come back to speedskating. Now, she thinks she’s in a happier place in her life.
“But now, coming to skating meets and the rink as ‘that girl’ or ‘the girl that finally stepped forward’ will take some adjusting,” she says.
Despite the additional attention on her, Farrell skated well at the Utah Olympic Oval over the weekend, recording personal best times in each event she entered. It was the last race of the season, and Farrell says she’ll take some time off the ice before preparing for next season – and her push to make the 2014 Olympic team.