South Korean Triathlete’s Suicide Exposes Team’s Culture of Abuse

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South Korean Triathlete’s Suicide Exposes Team’s Culture of Abuse


Young athletes live together in dormitories and routinely skip classes to attend practices, leaving them with few career choices outside of sports. Such a system gives coaches exceptional power over athletes, and other victims have said they were afraid to earlier speak up for fear they would be left without careers, and ostracized by their teammates.

In a rare example of a Korean athlete speaking out, Shim Suk-hee, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in short-track speedskating, shocked the country last year by accusing her former coach of raping her repeatedly since she was 17. The coach, Cho Jae-beom, was sentenced to 10 months in prison for physically assaulting four athletes, including Ms. Shim, between 2011 and the preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He is still fighting the rape charges in court.

The Korean cases are part of a larger global trend in which female athletes are speaking out about physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches and team doctors. In the United States, Larry Nasser, a doctor, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years for molesting scores of girls, many of them Olympic gymnasts, under the guise of giving them examinations.

While it is hard to fully understand her mind-set, Ms. Choi, 22, had sought help, filing complaints and petitions with the authorities. In the months leading up to her suicide, she had reported her case to the National Human Rights Commission, the Korea Triathlon Federation, the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, and the police in Gyeongju City, where the team was based.

Ms. Choi told the authorities, in complaints reviewed by The Times, that Mr. Ahn had slapped, punched and kicked her more than 20 times on the day she made the recording, and fractured one of her ribs. She said she did not seek medical treatment at the time for fear of retaliation.

“She had been stressed out lately because the officials she appealed to acted as if some beating and abuse should be taken for granted in the sport,” said Ms. Choi’s father, Choi Young-hee. The authorities, he said, told Ms. Choi “that the accused denied any wrongdoing and that they didn’t have enough evidence to act, even though ​we gave them the audio files.”

“Our country may have advanced ​a ​lot in other sectors, but the human rights in our sports remain stuck in the 1970s and ’80s,” ​said Mr. Choi​, a farmer. “Who is going to bring back my daughter alive?”



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