The U.S. Center for SafeSport is investigating former Olympic bronze medalist and renowned figure skating coach Peter Oppegard over allegations that include biting and throwing hot beverages on skaters, Christine Brennan reported for USA Today Sports.
The investigation has been ongoing since July, per USA Today. The Center, which opened in March 2017 to investigate allegations of abuse in Olympic sport, does not comment on investigations. The incidents reportedly took place at East West Ice Palace in Artesia, California, where Oppegard worked from 2005 until leaving in 2018.
Who is Peter Oppegard?
Oppegard, 61, and his former pairs partner Jill Watson are the last Americans to win an Olympic medal in pairs figure skating. They won bronze at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. The duo won three national championships together and the bronze medal at the 1987 world championships.
They were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2004.
He is the estranged husband of skating coach and choreographer Karen Kwan. Kwan was also an elite national skater in the mid-1990s and is the older sister of Michelle Kwan, a 2012 inductee to the Hall of Fame. Michelle Kwan won an Olympic silver in 1998 behind Tara Lipinski and a bronze in 2002. She's a nine-time national champion and five-time world champion who once used her older sister and Oppegard for choreography.
The Kwan family owns and operates the Artesia rink.
Oppegard allegations include throwing hot coffee on skaters
SafeSport is reportedly looking into allegations that on multiple occasions Oppegard threw hot water and coffee at skaters during training sessions during coaching. Jessica Pfund told USA Today Sports that in 2013, when she was a 15-year-old pairs skater training with Oppegard, he bit her during a practice session.
"He was helping to position me on the ice to show me a landing position on a jump. Both of his hands were holding me, and he leaned over and bit me on the skin on my upper right arm, near the bicep,” Pfund said, via USA Today Sports.
Pfund said she had a bite mark on her arm and a bruise for more than a week. Her mother said the teeth marks were "obvious" and the two discussed that night what to do. Pfund asked her mother not to say anything "because every time she would try, everything would get worse with him, our lessons and the criticism would get worse."
They were also concerned about the ramifications for his wife, Karen Kwan, and their two daughters if they were to report him to someone. The girls would have been younger than 10 years old at the time.
Pfund, now 23, left Oppegard the following year following three years at the Artesia rink and said she was contacted by SafeSport about an investigation. She is currently coaching and training with pairs partner Joshua Santillan. They were top-10 finishers in the U.S. national championships from 2016-2020.
US Figure Skating issues statement supporting all victims
U.S. Figure Skating released a statement to USA Today Sports:
“U.S. Figure Skating supports all victims of abuse and misconduct and encourages anyone who has been abused or suspects abuse or misconduct to immediately report it to local law enforcement, the U.S. Center for SafeSport or U.S. Figure Skating.”
Just last month U.S. Figure Skating agreed to pay a former competitive skater $1.45 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of being negligent in protesting its athletes. Adam Schmidt said he suffered "numerous sexual assaults" by Richard Callaghan while training with him as a teenager.
French Olympic pairs skater Morgan Cipres retired from the sport in September of 2020 while under investigation by SafeSport and the Pasco County, Florida, Sheriff's Office, via USA Today Sports. He allegedly direct messaged photos of his penis to a girl who trained at the same rink as he did in Florida. The family said John Zimmerman, a 2002 Olympian and member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, urged the family not to report while shaming and threatening the girl.
Cipres, 29, his pairs partner, 33-year-old Vanessa James, would have been contenders for a medal at the 2022 Beijing Games.
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