U.S. skeleton coach put on leave amid sexual harassment claims
December 31, 2005
With less than a week until the U.S. skeleton team begins its final preparations for the Turin Olympics, its coach was placed on administrative leave Saturday amid allegations he sexually harassed at least two female sliders.The decision whether Tim Nardiello will coach the Olympic team now rests, in part, with a three-person grievance committee formed by the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. The committee will open its hearing Monday, and could make a recommendation to the federation’s board members by week’s end.Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., will conduct a separate investigation. Spokesman Darryl Seibel said the USOC has begun contacting athletes to schedule interviews for next week. The USOC has final say in approving coaches and athletes who make up the U.S. Olympic delegation.The timing of the investigations are crucial, because the team leaves for Europe next week and will not return until after the Turin Games. If a pre-Olympics coaching change will be made, it’ll likely happen before that trip begins.”Everyone is entitled to a fair hearing,” said Dan Goodwin, the vice president of the skeleton federation’s board and its legal counsel. “It’ll be a thorough process. We’re going to gather the facts and the committee will make a recommendation to the review board and the board will act however it deems fit.”The two athletes – 2002 Olympic gold medalist Tristan Gale and longtime slider Felicia Canfield – claim Nardiello has made sexual advances and explicit comments toward female racers, Goodwin said.
Nardiello, a two-time luge Olympian and married father of three who has denied the allegations, did not return calls from the AP seeking comment. One of his top athletes, reigning World Cup overall champion Noelle Pikus-Pace, said she was outraged by both the allegations and the suspension.”These people cannot make the team, so they are trying to destroy this man’s life,” Pikus-Pace told The Associated Press. “I want him there more than anything because he’s gotten me to where I am.”Neither Gale nor Canfield will slide in the Turin Games. Each of the four men and four women who are Olympic-team candidates signed a letter in early December supporting Nardiello, Goodwin said Saturday.The allegations were first reported in Saturday’s editions of The New York Times.”Expediency is important here. This needs to be resolved quickly,” Goodwin told the AP. “And I believe it will be resolved. It’s got everybody’s attention now.”Goodwin said the committee will interview Gale, Canfield and Nardiello – plus anyone else wishing to participate – in the coming days, probably by telephone since team members are scattered across the country for a holiday break.Gale did not return an e-mail seeking comment Saturday, and her mother Marsha, who also has written the national board in recent weeks to explain how she believes her daughter was harassed by Nardiello, did not return a phone message.
Federation board members decided Thursday to ask for Nardiello’s resignation by March 1 – after the Olympics – instead of immediately because no athlete had come forward and said they were subjected to harassment.”The last thing our athletes currently need is a change in coaching and the related distraction associated with this,” U.S. bobsled and skeleton interim executive director Robie Vaughn wrote in an e-mail to board members Thursday.Canfield, the wife of federation board member Brady Canfield, wrote the board Friday saying Nardiello spoke to her and touched her inappropriately, plus tried to kiss her.Her account prompted the board to take further action.”The game has changed now,” Goodwin said. “Everything has changed since Felicia put her name to the paper. And now we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do under the bylaws.”In her e-mail to board members, Felicia Canfield said she never revealed specific details of the alleged harassment because she “did not want to risk alienating the only coach I have ever had.”
“What has my response been to these interactions?” Felicia Canfield wrote. “I have ignored them. I have brushed them aside. Why? Because I needed Tim to be my coach. … I am sure other women athletes feel the same way.”Brady Canfield, the 2003 U.S. national skeleton champion, was not among the board members asked to take part in the inquiry.”I believe I’ve got bias,” said Brady Canfield, a major in the U.S. Air Force and part of its World Class Athlete Program. “The coach made a pass at my wife.”The situation comes at a difficult time for the women’s national team, which needs a strong showing in its next World Cup race to ensure that two sliders will qualify for the Turin Games. If the U.S. is not ranked among the top three nations after the next race in Germany in two weeks, only one woman will represent the team in the Olympics.”The timing is very strange,” Pikus-Pace said. “Because it’s this close to the Olympics, many athletes just want media attention. They’ll do anything to get it.”Skeleton athletes slide headfirst on a sled, reaching speeds exceeding 70 mph on the same track used for bobsled and luge. The sport was added to the Olympics in 2002, and two Americans – Gale and Jim Shea Jr. – won gold medals in the men’s and women’s events.
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