Nardiello insists that he should still be coaching
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Tim Nardiello’s cell phone was on one side of the coffee table, next to the laptop that’s now his lone way of communicating with the team he coached for the last four years.The rest of the table was covered by an overflowing manila folder, holding documents that will play a large role in deciding whether he’ll coach in the Turin Olympics next month – or perhaps ever again.It’s a difficult time for Nardiello, the embattled U.S. skeleton coach accused of sexual harassment by one slider, Felicia Canfield, and inappropriate conduct by Marsha Gale, the mother of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Tristan Gale. He’ll go to court on Monday, fighting to clear his name and get his job back.Neither Canfield nor Gale will be on the Olympic team. But based largely on the harassment claims, which Nardiello strongly denies, he was placed on administrative leave by the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.”None of us are perfect,” Nardiello said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, as he took a break from e-mailing plans and advice to his team, which includes Olympian-to-be Katie Uhlaender of Breckenridge, and which is already training in Germany for a World Cup race next weekend. “But none of us deserve this.”
The list of complaints made against Nardiello – a father of three who separated from his wife more than two years ago – is lengthy.He’s dating a skeleton athlete from New Zealand, which the USBSF told him was “quite distasteful.” He’s also coaching a handful of athletes from other nations, saying he does so because international bobsled officials urged him to.And then came the letter from Canfield, who claimed Nardiello tried to touch her and kiss her. Since the rumors of harassment were no longer hearsay and were coming from a specific athlete, the USBSF suspended Nardiello – to the chagrin of many of his top athletes.”What (an) inconvenient time for any thought to even be considered that a new coaching staff be put together,” said Eric Bernotas, who’ll have one of the three men’s spots. “Even more importantly, in the past two years, our team has existed with a wonderful and incredible dynamic, in which we have been able to produce positive results and work together while learning and moving forward.”Essex County Supreme Court Judge James Dawson will hear arguments from Nardiello and his lawyer Monday that the claims against him aren’t valid, and that the USBSF wasn’t justified in suspending him.Under the federation’s bylaws, any grievance must be “signed under oath.” Canfield’s grievance came by e-mail and Marsha Gale’s was stamped by a notary public – but, at least as far as Nardiello or his attorney James Brooks know, none was sworn to under oath.
“I’ve been called a father figure by some of the men, even,” said Nardiello, who chose his words carefully in a 90-minute interview with the AP and stopped himself when he began speaking about the direct allegations. “It wouldn’t hurt the dynamics for me to go back. In reality, I’ve known for a while that I’m in trouble because I don’t fall into their pattern of having all the pencils in the right place.”Calls placed in recent days to Dan Goodwin, the USBSF’s vice president and legal counsel, have not been returned.On Nov. 29, Nardiello – a two-time luge Olympian who said he became a skeleton coach during the 2001-02 season, ironically, at Felicia Canfield’s urging – received a letter from USBSF interim executive director Robie Vaughn, who said he, the USBSF executive committee and skeleton sport director Terry Kent were concerned over Nardiello’s “individual decision making and conduct.”The letter said USBSF officials were not pleased with Nardiello coaching foreign athletes, that he wasn’t spending enough time or communicating properly with U.S. sliders, and that those issues – plus others – could prompt his termination.”I’m not resigning,” Nardiello said. “They can fire me.”
So, while he waits to learn his fate, Nardiello planned to spend his Saturday coaching, as usual.Only this time, he’d first have to clear some fresh snow from the homemade track between his mother’s home and the adjacent house he’s building. And the only slider would be his 12-year-old son, Jack.For a week, he’s paced the hardwood floors, stopping to answer phone calls and send e-mails. He’s hardly sleeping and his oldest daughter is having nightmares. And callers getting the voice mail on his cell phone hear 30 seconds of a whistled version of “High hopes,” which plays on a clock his mother gave him for Christmas.It’s fitting, he says. He had high hopes for this Olympic year, and still does.”I’ve always enjoyed coaching,” Nardiello said. “The energy you get from that, and the thank yous you get from that, are amazing. And I feel that way, even now.”
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