#MeToo strikes at the heart off USA Swimming: Ariana Kukors, the American swimmer who claimed the World 200m medley title and world record at the height of the shiny suits crisis at Rome 2009, has told law enforcement officials in her country that former USA Swimming national team coach Sean Hutchison sexually assaulted her when she was 16.
Further, her attorneys have let it be known to media that the swimmer alleges that Hutchison continued to have sexual contact with her until she was 24.
The Southern California News Group’s Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register, the paper that has long covered a story with an alarming lack of reaction to it, were among mainstream media to break the story in California, stating that the Department of Homeland Security, with assistance from the Des Moines, Washington police department, has conducted a search warrant on Hutchison’s apartment south of Seattle.
Officers are reported to have seized computers and cell phones, while warehouses in California and Florida have also been searched.
In a statement, Kukors says:
“I never thought I would share my story because, in so many ways, just surviving was enough. I was able to leave a horrible monster and build a life I could have never imagined for myself. But in time, I’ve realized that stories like my own are too important to go unwritten. Not for the sake of you knowing my story, but for the little girls and boys whose lives and future hangs in the grasp of a horribly powerful and manipulative person. That they may not have to go through the same pain, trauma, horror, and abuse. That their parents, mentors, and guardians are better able to spot the signs of grooming and realize it’s tragic consequences before it’s too late.”
Many questions ahead – including who knew what, when and what was done about it. Hutchison left a post on deck abruptly several years ago. The investigation is almost certain to involve inquiry that stretches to USA Swimming and its Safe Sport program.
Former U.S. national team director Mark Schubert spoke to the Washington Post in December 2010 about rumours of a relationship between Hutchison and Kukors. An inquiry ensued but Hutchison was cleared of any wrongdoing by USA Swimming.
Hutchison worked as an assistant coach under Paul Bergen at the Tualatin Hills Swim Club outside Portland early in his career. Bergen was eventually forced out at the club following accusations by Deena Deardurff Schmidt, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist, that Bergen sexually abused her more than 40 years ago.
Married to Matthew Smith last year, Kukors, a member of the USA London 2012 Olympic team who continues to work with former teammates for the USA Swimming Foundation in the interests of spearing the word on the benefits of swimming, first swam for Hutchison at KING Aquatics near Seattle. She alleges that Hutchison began grooming her for a sexual relationship when she was 13, sexually assaulted her at 16 and continued to have a sexual relationship with her until she was 24.
Attorney Ray Mendoza, a former sex crimes prosecutor with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office who is representing Kukors along with San Jose attorney Bob Allard. said:
“It is imperative that institutions entrusted with children put into place safeguards to protect
children and not their reputation. For that reason, any suspicion of an inappropriate sexual relationship, including one between an athlete and coach, should immediately be reported to law enforcement. When institutions conduct their own internal investigations, they usually come up with the results that they desire, resulting in the end of the investigation but a continued and ongoing sexual abuse of the child.”
Hutchison, now 46, was at one time considered as one of American swimming’s rising stars of the coaching deck. An assistant coach on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, he was named Team USA head coach for the World Championships in Rome, where Kukors shone in a shiny suit.
Later in 2009, Hutchison was named coach of a elite U.S. national team training group with the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team based at the Janet Evans Swim Complex.
The group was one of three U.S. Olympic Committee Professional and Post-Graduate Training Groups.
In a statement, USA Swimming said that during an investigation that it conducted, Kukors and Hutchison had both d ended any sexual relationship. The federation now states that it will “stand by [Kukors], and all other victims, in their quest to break their silence and confront their horrific experiences.”
The statement does not address the issues of prevailing culture that meant Kukors and others did not feel able to come forward nor, come the hour of inquiry, tell what they now state as being the truth. The statement in full runs at the foot of this article.
Champion Women: No Coach-Athlete Relationships – Full Stop
In the storm of woe and weeping in the Larry Nassar case, the 1984 Olympic 100m freestyle champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar, now a civil rights lawyer and chief executive of the legal advocacy group Champion Women, says that talking to children about “good, ethical” coaches at an early age is critical.
She told the Washington Post: “Parents have to teach kids that they have bodily autonomy, to know what’s theirs, and to trust their inner gut.
“We don’t want parents telling their kids ‘Do whatever the coach says. Athletes have to be empowered to say no to coaches, doctors, and trainers at an early age, or we’re setting them up for failure. Athletes and coaches should not be in an authoritarian relationship.”
Parents should tell their young children that a good, ethical coach will never need to be alone with any child. Says Hogshead-Makar:
“You can tell an 8-year old that a good, ethical coach will never text just you. He or she will never contact just you on social media. Everything should be in group texts or social media posts. A good, ethical coach will never give only you a gift. A good, ethical coach doesn’t play favorites.”
The discussion feeds into the wider movement working towards a fresh approach to coaching coaches in a way that benefits them and the young people they work with. One prime example of that work is the Empowering Coaching program in Britain.
Beyond young childhood, teenagers should be made aware that it is inappropriate for athletes to have romantic and sexual relationships with coaches, say Hogshead-Makar and others. The 1984 champion says:
“Coaches should not have romantic or sexual relationships with the athletes they coach – and that regardless of age or consent. We have rules about teachers, doctors and lawyers having relationships with their students, patients and clients – coaches should be a part of that, too.”
Hogshead-Makar, the subject of the SwimVortex No1 story of 2017 in our annual, year-end reflection of the most significant moments in swimming, was among those who advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 534, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which requires amateur athletics governing bodies, like USA Gymnastics, to report sex-abuse allegations to local or federal law enforcement, or a child-welfare agency designated by the Justice Department, the moment they are made aware of them.
The bill was created in response to a vast wave of sexual abuse cases, confirmed and alleged, in USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo and USA Gymnastics, the latter not only involving the disgraced doctor Larry Nassar.
Hutchison – a man tipped for the very top of coaching at USA Swimming
At one stage Hutchison was among those g0-to coaches lauded by swimming niche websites in the United States, a man who was said to be working on new approaches to swim speed, at a time when Kukors now says he was abusing her. Here is a video of Hutchison, right, being interviewed on an aspect of his approach to coaching:
Ariana Kukors retired from racing in 2013. She received the USA Swimming Golden Goggles Award for the Performance of the Year when she trounced her rivals to claim the 200m medley world title at Rome 2009. The meet witnessed a farcical 43 world records at the height of the shiny suits crisis, Kukors’ time of 2:06.15 among those like to remain on the world-record books for a generation or two to come.
While 2009 witnessed 22 performances inside 2:10 among the world’s best 200m medley swimmers (there were none in 2007 and 12 this year), just three got inside 2:08, Olympic champion Stephanie Rice (AUS) closest to Kukors on 2:07.03, while Katinka Hosszu (HUN), the 400m champion in Rome, clocked 2:07.46. It was Hosszu, without the aid of a shiny suit, who would break Kukors record and come to dominate women’s medley swimming from 2013 onwards in a born-again phase of her career.
Kukors’ swim in Rome was sensational on the clock, though unreflective of true swimming speed at the time: she almost cracked 2:06. In textile, only Hosszu has cracked 2:07 in what is getting on for the decade since gone by. The suits suited some swimmers better than others and helped some more than. others, according to body type and build.
Kukors, who swam for the FAST team and studied as the University of Washington, finished fifth in the Olympic final at London 2012 in a fine 2:09.83. Her career treasury included silver (4×200m free) in Rome and bronze in the 200m medley at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai.
Kukors was a regular member of the US national team and claimed silver in the 400m medley at the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria and silver in the 200 medley and the same event in 2010 in Irvine. In the short-course pool, she claimed the world crown over 100m medley in 2010 in Dubai and a silver in the 200m medley at the same ever.
At the time of her retirement, Kukors gave no indication of the #metoo call she is now making. She said she would not find it too hard to move on, noting:
“We always emphasized that ‘you’re not a swimmer, you’re a person that swims. In my family school, family and friends were also important. My parents stressed that it was important to live a balanced life.”
The events of 2010 to 2014
It was 2013 when Mark Schubert confirmed to the Orange County Register that he and his assistant coach Bill Jewell at the Golden West swim club were involved in the 2010 hiring of a private investigator to conduct surveillance of a rival Orange County swim coach suspected of having an improper relationship with a swimmer.
Today is the day the swimmer confirms that the story was about her and coach Sean Hutchison.
Schubert confirmed top the paper that he leaked “rumours” of a relationship between Hutchison and one of his women swimmers to the Washington Post in late 2010.
In 2013, Schubert was giving depositions in a wrongful termination, defamation and breach of contract lawsuit filed against Schubert and the Golden West Swim Club by former Golden West coach and administrator Dia Rianda and outlined in a letter to USA Swimming from Rianda’s attorney.
USA Swimming began investigating allegations of inappropriate touching of children and inappropriate sexual conduct directed toward minor children by Schubert’s assistant coach Bill Jewell, who denied the allegations. Rianda said she was fired on July 11, 2012, by Schubert after she repeatedly raised concerns about Jewell’s conduct with underage female swimmers with USA Swimming officials. Rianda said Schubert also repeatedly ignored complaints about Jewell’s alleged misbehaviour.
In 2014, Schubert reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with Rianda.
At the time, another swimming sexual abuse case came to light when Jancy Thompson, a former Bay Area swimmer, reached a confidential out-of-court settlement in a civil case against Norm Havercroft, her former coach.
Thompson alleged in a suit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court that Havercroft sexually abused her for more than five years starting when she was 13 years old.
Rianda’s complaint against Jewell came at a time when Jewell was under investigation by USA Swimming for alleged inappropriate behaviour toward underage female swimmers while coaching at Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team (FAST), the program that had been led by Hutchison. Jewell was dismissed by FAST in 2011 and then went to work at the Golden West by Schubert.
The Orange County Register, in a report on the allegations, wrote in 2013 that Jewell had referred to some young female swimmers at FAST as “the itty-bitty-titty club”, according to court documents obtained by the newspaper.
Those court documents also referred to the coach describing the breasts of swimmers as a “nice rack” and “anthills”, while one 13-year-old girl was said to have been asked about her virginity.
Jewell was banned from the sport for three years by USA Swimming in June 2013. Jewell, who guided the careers of a series of future Olympians and U.S. national team members, accepted the ban from the sport’s national governing body after waiving his right to a hearing.
The Jancy Thompson Case
According to court documents, Jancy Thompson testified that her abuse started when she was 13. By the time she was 14, she was receiving pornographic images from Havercroft, it was alleged.
By the time she was 15, Havercroft was sexually abusing her in private and humiliating her in public, Thompson says in those same court documents.
“Havercroft used fear, intimidation, and verbal abuse to turn underage female swimmers such as Jancy into helpless victims, easy prey for sexual abuse,” Thompson’s attorney, Robert Allard, wrote in a letter to USA Swimming obtained by the Orange County Register in 2014.
“To exercise his control over her, Havercroft would even go so far as to place a dog collar on Jancy and use a leash to direct her back and forth in the pool while he strolled nearby across the pool deck.”
Thompson and her attorney filed a formal complaint with USA Swimming in 2014, demanding that the sport’s national governing body ban Havercroft for life.
Documents obtained by the Register also showed that “police, swim parents, other coaches and even a representative of USA Swimming’s private insurance company informed USA Swimming officials of allegations of sexual misconduct against underage female swimmers as far back as the 1990s, yet the organization did not pursue a case against Havercroft.”
In 2014 Allard also called for the resignation of Susan Woessner, director of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program, which was set up to investigate sexual and physical abuse cases as well as educate the American swimming community on the topic and other safety issues.
“It is time for you and your so-called ‘Safe Sport’ program to do what USA Swimming should have done two decades ago in the mid 1990s – move to immediately ban former member coach Norm Havercroft (“Havercroft”) from your membership,” Allard wrote in a letter to Woessner.
“Had USA Swimming done its job instead of turning an all-too-familiar blind eye to a plethora of evidence revealing that Havercroft was molesting children, at least one child would have been spared from the insidious nature of childhood sexual abuse. Further, in light of a now established track record of over four (4) years which conclusively demonstrates that you cannot be entrusted with the welfare of our children in this great sport, as confirmed by our highest form of government, we demand that you immediately resign from your position at USA Swimming.”
When asked by the Register why Havercroft is not on the banned list, Woessner said: “Because we’ve never brought a case against him.”
Havercroft has denied any wrongdoing. In 2014, Stephen Baker, Havercroft’s attorney issued the following statement:
“These allegations and all allegations of inappropriate conduct by my client are completely false. The police conducted investigations and never charged Mr. Havercroft with any crime; as part of their investigation, the police had forensic examinations done of the Havercroft and the Thompson computer and came up with nothing.”
At the time, USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus, had been aware of Thompson’s allegations against Havercroft since 2010, the Register reported, citing documents confirming as much. Even so, Thompson told the newspaper that she was never contacted by investigators or employees from USA Swimming’s Safe Sport office.
A San Jose police sergeant said in a sworn statement in 2014 that he contacted USA Swimming in 1997 with allegations that Havercroft had sexually molested another underage swimmer he was coaching at the West Valley Swim Club. Two Bay Area swim parents said they reported inappropriate conduct by Havercroft to USA Swimming and Pacific Swimming, USA Swimming’s regional association for northern California, in 1996, according to the Register citing sworn depositions.
Here is what the Orange County register reported at the time:
- A broker for USSIC, USA Swimming’s privately held insurance company, informed the USSIC board of directors in 2001 of allegations that Havercroft sexually molested underage female swimmer between 1994-96. That swimmer was not Thompson.
- Havercroft “made sexually offensive contact with Plaintiff’s person, and said contact was done with intent to cause harmful and/or offensive contact with intimate parts of Plaintiff’s body,” the broker, Eric Peterson, wrote in a memo to the board. “The allegations go into specific detail I think the aforementioned allegation illustrates well enough that we are dealing with a sexual molestation case.”
- The case was settled out of court.
The statement from USA Swimming – in full
“With the denials from both parties, the investigation provided no basis to conclude that a Code of Conduct violation occurred, and the case was closed. Hutchison left coaching shortly thereafter but remains a member of USA Swimming as the owner of a member club based in Seattle.