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Fri March 8, 2013
Exclusive Audio: Second Skater Accuses Andy Gabel of Sexual Misconduct; Gabel Denies Charges
UPDATED, 7:15 pm: Andy Gabel responded to WUWM's story this evening by email:
"I want to emphasize, there was no incident of any abuse ever. I never forced myself on any individual and any allegations of that nature are absolutely false. Any relationship I had was consentual [sic]. Looking back on it now, I understand that my conduct nearly 20 years ago, and longer, was still inappropriate. I've apologized publically [sic] for that and I am sorry for crossing that line. I understand that inappropriateness more than ever now.
And so I resigned from the International Skating Union and US Speedskating because I care about the athletes and the sport that I have given so much of my life to and I did not want this type of story to have any adverse effects on the athletes, the organization, and the progress of the sport.
Nearly two decades ago, I made personal mistakes and looking back on it now, I wish that I would have been more mature and made better choices."
US Speedskating released a written statement this evening, as well:
"US Speedskating is aware of a second allegation brought by another athlete against a former board member. We have engaged the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP to thoroughly investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct brought forward by both athletes. US Speedskating will not tolerate abuse of any kind and we intend to investigate these claims, and any others that arise."
Another speedskater has come forward, leveling accusations of alleged sexual assault by former skater and former U.S. Speedskating President Andy Gabel, accusations that federal authorities are now looking into.
Two-time Olympic medalist Nikki Meyer was 15 when she trained at the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan. Andy Gabel was 11 years older and already an Olympic skater when he trained there at the same time.
Meyer says she came forward after hearing skater Bridie Farrell tell her story on WUWM’s Lake Effect last week.
"I was shocked, needless to say, but not surprised," she says. "I felt bad for Bridie and had reached out to her after originally hearing the interviews, just to let her know that she wasn’t going through this alone, and there were more of us out there."
Meyer, who was known as Nikki Ziegelmeyer when she competed in short-track speedskating, says Farrell’s story sounded chillingly similar to her own – though she says the abuse had a clearly, and unpleasantly, defined beginning, which happened when a coach suggested she go to Gabel for help in getting her skates adjusted.
"I knocked at his door – and I’m standing there, holding my skates, one in each hand," she says. "He opens the door, I explained to him the situation I was in, and what I was needing help with, and he said, 'Sure, no problem. Come on in.’ So I entered his room and he took the skates out of my hands and set them on the desk, and said, ‘Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be right back.’
"So I leaned up against the footboard – these are kind of small rooms, little dorm rooms, and leaned up against the foot board of the bed, and just kind of leaned there for it couldn’t have been more than a minute, and as he came around the corner, the lights came off, and I’m, like, 'What’s going on?' And he proceeded to push me down over the footboard onto his bed and jumped on top of me. And I was just in shock – I couldn’t believe what was he was doing – shocked and confused immediately."
"And I proceeded to try to push him off and said, ‘No, this isn’t why I came,” and he just kept saying over and over again, ‘You know this is why you came to my room. You know this is why you came to my room.’ And that’s not why I came to his room. And I was just so in unbelievable shock that this was actually happening, and that Andy Gabel was doing this to me."
Meyer says Gabel instructed her not to tell anyone what had happened, because no one would believe her. But she says she tried to tell teammates immediately, and indeed, no one believed her story. Meyer says Gabel continued to pursue her in the weeks following, and eventually, more sexual contact happened. She says he was eventually able to recast his attention in a way that she – like Bridie Farrell in our earlier interview – believed she was special. Meyer says the abuse went on for more than three years, including at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics and other world meets.
Gabel's response to the latest allegations is printed above. Last week, he issued statements to both the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which he admitted to and apologized for what he termed a “brief, inappropriate relationship" with a fellow speedskater (though he did not name Farrell). He also resigned from his positions with U.S. Speedskating and the International Skating Union.
Meyer confirms that she has spoken with the FBI as it looks into the matter.
"I was contacted by an FBI agent yesterday, and spoke with him for a couple of hours at least," she says.
Meyer says she went into detail about many of the instances in which she had sexual contact with Gabel. Bridie Farrell also confirms she has spoken with the FBI. In an email message, a spokesman for the FBI’s Milwaukee Field Office said the agency would have no comment at this time.
Speaking on a conference call this afternoon, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said he was not aware of any additional investigations into Gabel – federal or otherwise, though he noted the Committee’s “SafeSport” program was put into place after a sex abuse scandal involving USA Swimming.
A group of short-track skaters this week asked the USOC to put U.S. Speedskating on probation. In a Section 10 complaint, the skaters documented a wide-range of “alleged issues of noncompliance by U.S. Speedskating with the (Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur) Sports Act,” which covers transparency and fair treatment of athletes requirements.
Addressing the sport's overall turmoil, Blackmun said the Committee does have fundamental concerns about U.S. Speedskating.
"Candidly, their performance this winter on the short-track side has not been as good as it has been in recent years," he said on the conference call. "And so, I think we’re seeing some of the effects of the challenges they’re facing – on the ice now, and we’re concerned about that, and because of that, we’re having some what I think are very constructive discussions with speedskating about how we might improve the state of affairs there."
Nikki Meyer, who lives in her native Missouri, won a silver medal at the ’92 Games in Albertville, and a bronze at the ’94 Games in Lillehammer – one more medal than Gabel won in his Olympic career. She says she almost never talks about her life as an Olympic speedskater today. Meyer attempted a comeback to speedskating in 1997, but sustained a career-ending back injury. She later unsuccessfully sued the USOC for negligence in that case.