US Olympic figure skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield suspended for life for misconduct

Warning: Contains depictions of abuse and self-harm.

U.S. Olympic pairs figure skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield, under investigation for 2 1/2 years, was banned for life Wednesday afternoon by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for violations including physical and emotional abuse, retaliation, abuse of process and failure to report a potential SafeSport violation.

“There’s a cultural shift happening,” SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports after Sappenfield’s permanent ineligibility was announced on SafeSport’s centralized disciplinary database.

“Actions that were once tolerated or ignored are no longer accepted, and accountability takes root,” she said. “This is progress, but creating long-term cultural change requires a strong commitment from everyone in the sports community to foster safe environments for athletes to fulfill their potential. Those who cling to toxic tactics will be left behind and on the wrong side of history.”

Sappenfield did not respond to a text message from USA TODAY Sports after her punishment was announced. She has the right to appeal the lifetime ban.

Coach Dalilah Sappenfield, right, shown with pair skaters Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Christopher Knierim during the 2018 Prudential US Figure Skating Championships.Coach Dalilah Sappenfield, right, shown with pair skaters Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Christopher Knierim during the 2018 Prudential US Figure Skating Championships.

Coach Dalilah Sappenfield, right, shown with pair skaters Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Christopher Knierim during the 2018 Prudential US Figure Skating Championships.

On September 3, 2021, SafeSport issued temporary measures against Sappenfield, including a directive barring her from having any contact with a dozen skaters involved in the investigation and a requirement that another adult be present to directly supervise her when she trains. The allegations against Sappenfield included verbal abuse that prompted 2016 US national doubles champion Tarah Kayne to cut her wrist with a razor blade.

Kayne told USA TODAY Sports in October 2021 about several incidents she reported to a SafeSport investigator, including one in which Kayne claimed Sappenfield’s constant verbal abuse, laced with sexual comments, led her to cuts her left wrist with a razor blade in the summer of 2019. in her dorm room at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“She was constantly talking about sex, who I was dating, my sex life,” said Kayne, who retired from skating and became a coach in Canada. “It was completely inappropriate, but that’s what Dalilah does. She uses the gossip of other skaters on the rink against you. She knew I was struggling with my mental health, but instead of helping me, she chose to make fun of me. She even went to other skaters and told them about it, calling me out and asking guys why anyone would want to date me.”

US Figure Skating praised Kayne in a statement to USA TODAY Sports: “By courageously reporting the details of her trauma, Tarah Kayne’s actions may help other survivors come forward. US Figure Skating encourages anyone who has been abused or suspects abuse to report it. local law enforcement, the US Center for SafeSport or US Figure Skating.”

Tarah Kayne is shown with Danny O'Shea competing at the 2016 US Figure Skating Championships.Tarah Kayne is shown with Danny O'Shea competing at the 2016 US Figure Skating Championships.

Tarah Kayne is shown with Danny O’Shea competing at the 2016 US Figure Skating Championships.

In a separate incident, Mitch Moyer, USA Figure Skating’s senior director of high performance athletes, led an operation to remove a 16-year-old Russian female in pairs from Sappenfield’s home in the fall of 2020, according to of three people with direct knowledge of Moyer’s action who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

It is a violation of the USFS SafeSport program manual for a coach to host a minor athlete. Two other skaters were living at Sappenfield’s Colorado Springs home at the same time as the Russian skater, both men over the age of 18.

Moyer reported Sappenfield’s living situation to SafeSport, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Asked by USA TODAY Sports in November 2021 about the USFS action, Sappenfield texted: “Thank you for contacting me. I have no comment at this time.”

Sappenfield is well known in skating circles as the coach and good friend of John Coughlin, the two-time national pairs champion who committed suicide at age 33 on January 18, 2019, a day after receiving a provisional suspension from SafeSport on three counts of sexual abuse.

Sappenfield vigorously defended Coughlin on social media after his death. USA TODAY Sports reported that there have been three sexual assault reports against Coughlin, two of which involved minors.

Three-time US women’s champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist Ashley Wagner told USA TODAY Sports on August 1, 2019 that Coughlin sexually assaulted her in June 2008 when she was 17 years old. Wagner’s case is separate from the three reports.

Sappenfield has been a fixture in U.S. pairs skating for nearly two decades. Winner of the 2008/USA Figure Skating Association Coach of the Year Award, she coached three-time national champions Alexa and Chris Knierim to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where they finished 15th in pairs competition and won a team. bronze medal.

Despite SafeSport’s temporary measures, Sappenfield appeared at the 2024 U.S. figure skating championships in Columbus in January, standing by the boards coaching a pairs team, still free to do their thing at the sport’s highest level.

“I’m here for my skaters,” she told USA TODAY Sports as she walked off the ice and through the media interview area.

Asked specifically about the SafeSport measures that were still in place, she said: “I think it’s very public.”

Sappenfield was allowed to compete in the national championships and coach a pairs team because SafeSport was still working on her case more than two years after it started.

Further extending the trial was an appeal filed by Sappenfield to his temporary measures. On January 5, 2023, an arbitration hearing was held and the arbitrator upheld the interim measures imposed on Sappenfield.

While she was training at the recent national championships, Sappenfield’s temporary measures were still in place, US Figure Skating said.

“Dalilah Sappenfield is training at the USA Figure Skating Championships under restrictions imposed by the US Center for Safe Sport, which has jurisdiction over her case,” the USFS said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “In cooperation with the Center, US Figure Skating continues to monitor Sappenfield.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympic figure skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield banned for life