South Korea ex-Olympic coach jailed 10.5 years for sexual assault

This picture taken on January 24, 2019 shows a general view of the Gangneung Oval, where the speed skating was held during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. – Just one year after the world’s best skiers and skaters gathered in South Korea to compete for Olympic gold, many of the venues stand empty, with arguments mounting over their future and upkeep costs. (Photo by Yelim LEE / AFP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) — A South Korean court Thursday sentenced a former national speed skating coach to over a decade in prison for sexually assaulting double Olympic gold medallist Shim Suk-hee.

Shim filed her complaint against her former coach Cho Jae-beom in January 2019, accusing him of having sexually abused her for years.

The Suwon District Court on Thursday sentenced Cho to 10 and a half years in jail for the “highly condemnable” act against a juvenile.

“The accused committed sexual assault by force, repeatedly using the victim’s inability to protest against her speed skating coach,” the court ruled, according to Yonhap news agency.

Now aged 23, Shim has four Olympic medals to her name, including relay golds at both Sochi 2014 and on home ice during the Pyeongchang Games four years later.

Her claims in 2019 to have been sexually assaulted by her coach when she was 17 sent shockwaves through South Korea.

(FILES) In a file photo taken on February 22, 2018 South Korea’s Shim Suk-hee reacts after the women’s 1,000m short track speed skating quarter-final event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung. – South Korean double Olympic champion skater Shim Suk-hee will seek a heavier sentence for her former coach, her lawyer said on January 22, 2021, after he was jailed for more than a decade for sexually assaulting her over several years. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

Speed skating has brought the country regional sporting acclaim, earning it top 10 medal table places at the summer and winter Olympics.

But in an already intensely competitive society where coaches hold immense sway over athletes’ careers, the sport was long known to be rife with physical and verbal abuse.

Cho was sentenced to 18 months in jail in January 2019 on separate charges of physically abusing Shim, and he now has to serve a total of 12 years in prison.

South Korea remains a highly patriarchal country, where victims of sex crimes often face public shaming and convicted rapists can receive relatively lenient sentences.

© Agence France-Presse