Former USOEC speedskater accused of sexual abuse

U.S. Speedskating began an investigation Friday into the report of a female skater accusing former Olympian and organization president Andy Gabel of sexual abuse in the 1990s.

Bridie Farrell told public radio station WUWM in Milwaukee that she had sexual contact with Gabel repeatedly over several months in 1997 and 1998 while both were training in New York and Michigan. When the alleged abuse began, she was 15 and Gabel was 33.

Gabel competed in short track at three Winter Games and won a silver medal in the relay at Lillehammer in 1994. He also served a term as president of U.S. Speedskating and is currently chairman of the short track committee for the International Skating Union.

Gabel once trained at the United States Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

The national governing body said it was not previously aware of any allegations against Gabel.

“Our current understanding is that it was not reported to anyone at U.S. Speedskating or the authorities at that time,” the organization said in a statement. “We intend to look into this matter immediately to determine what action should be taken.”

There was no immediate comment from Gabel. The Associated Press left a message on his cellphone.

Farrell’s lawyer, Jon Little, said the abuse began when Farrell and Gabel were training at the same club in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

According to Little, Gabel began paying a lot of attention to Farrell. He would let her drive his car, for instance, and he also sharpened her skates.

“She’s star struck” Little said, describing her state of mind at the time.

There was no immediate comment from the ISU. But International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said, “Clearly, any allegations of such a serious nature need to be fully investigated.”

In any event, they represent another setback to a powerhouse U.S. Olympic sport, coming after a sexual abuse scandal in swimming.

Dozens of coaches have been accused of abusing underage swimmers, including a former national team director, prompting USA Swimming to adopt a “safe sport” program and go public with a list of everyone who has received a lifetime ban from the organization.

Farrell’s allegations are somewhat different in that the abuse allegedly began while she and Gabel were both still competing. But Little said it follows much the same pattern of what happened in swimming: a mentorlike figure taking advantage of a young athlete.