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USA Swimming takes steps to out abusive coaches

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

A woman who accused former USA Swimming national team director Everett Uchiyama of sexual abuse revealed to The Associated Press on Wednesday details of an ordeal that began at age 14 and said that officials need to do more than publicize his lifetime ban.

The alleged victim, speaking on condition of anonymity because her name was never revealed during the investigation that followed her claim, made her first public comments to the AP after the group released a list of 46 people who have been barred for life or permanently resigned their membership, mostly for sexual misconduct.

Later in the day, Uchiyama resigned from the Colorado country club where he worked as aquatics director, effective immediately. The club said it got a positive recommendation from USA Swimming and knew nothing about the allegations against him.

The woman, now in her mid-30s, says the relationship with Uchiyama started not long after she began swimming for him at Southern California Aquatics.

Her accusations, made in a Jan. 24, 2006, e-mail to USA Swimming, led to his resignation under a confidential agreement three days later. He was permanently banned from the organization on Jan. 31, 2006, but that didn't stop him from landing a job at the nearby Country Club of Colorado a year later.

No criminal charges were ever filed. The alleged victim said she talked with two police departments, but both told her the statute of limitations had expired. For the same reason, she never filed a civil lawsuit.

"I'm very happy to see his name is out there," the woman said. "Now everybody will know, because when he resigned he was telling people random things like, 'I just decided to retire from that job.' Obviously, he was not honest about it."

But she criticized USA Swimming for publishing the list Tuesday in small type at the bottom of its Web site, without alerting the media, and said it's only one step of many needed to deal with the problem of coaches having improper sexual contact with underage swimmers.

"If you look at the USA Swimming Web site, you would not know where to look, not know where to find it," the woman said. "I was disgusted with the way USA Swimming posted it. It's like they're trying to hide it on their Web site."

USA Swimming issued a statement Wednesday saying the banned list was released as part of its ongoing efforts to address sexual misconduct within the sport. It was one of four proposals adopted at a board meeting on May 1 to deal with lawsuits and a wave of negative publicity, including a 1972 Olympic champion claiming she was abused and that USA Swimming did nothing about it.

"To foster a safe and positive environment for athletes and provide transparency, USA Swimming has chosen to publish the list of individuals banned for life from our organization," the statement said. "By putting the names out there for all, we hope that other youth sports organizations will benefit from this information."

The national governing body is "committed to ensuring that we have in place strong safeguards for our athletes as we continue the implementation" of a seven-point plan proposed last month by executive director Chuck Wielgus and president Jim Wood, the statement added.

USA Swimming declined to comment on Uchiyama's case specifically, and a message left at his listed number in Colorado Springs, Colo., was not returned.

Uchiyama was hired in January 2007 by the Country Club of Colorado, which is about five miles from USA Swimming's headquarters.

He was still listed on the club's Web site Wednesday afternoon, though someone who answered the phone at Uchiyama's office said he had taken a personal leave. Then, in a terse statement issued late in the afternoon, the club announced his departure and raised serious questions about USA Swimming's contention that it's been victimized by a larger societal problem.

"As is the club's standard practice, hiring protocol was followed when he was initially hired, including a thorough background check prior to his first day of employment. This included a positive reference with USA Swimming," the statement said. "The club was previously unaware of the allegations in today's news report. The Country Club of Colorado takes the welfare of its guests very seriously and took immediate action in regards to this matter."

The alleged victim recalled how Uchiyama gained her trust and gradually turned it into a sexual relationship.

"He would go to social gatherings with us. If the swimmers were going out to dinner, or the swimmers were going out to the movies, he would come along," she said. "He was building that relationship with me. He would hang out a little bit afterward when everybody left. He started building that intimacy piece to the relationship. Basically, that's how he hooked me."

The former swimmer said she developed a mental barrier to help her deal with the abuse, even after the relationship finally ended in her mid-20s.

"It's kind of hard to explain if you've never been through it," she said. "It's almost like you're living in one body with two different people. On the one hand, you're an adult so to speak. You're living life, experiencing things, dating other people. On the other hand, you're stuck in that 14-, 15-year-old girl who had a secret relationship with your coach."

While talking with another coach in 2005, she finally realized how much she had been harmed by her relationship with Uchiyama.

"It clicked for me," she said. "I was a victim. It was not like I was chosen to be a special person. I was a victim of Everett."

Uchiyama began his career at USA Swimming in 1999 as the national team coordinator, and moved up to national team director on an interim basis in December 2002. The interim title was removed in April 2004, just a few months before the Athens Olympics.

His alleged victim said she paid some $3,500 out of her own pocket for therapy, and also suffered from severe headaches caused by the stress of her ordeal. She was eager to get on with her life, but now feels it's important to speak out so others don't have to go through what she did.

"I know there's light at the end up of the tunnel," she said. "People know about it now. Hopefully this will bring about change and help protect other people in the future. That's all I've ever really wanted."