Olympian claims USA Swimming ignored sexual abuse

Former world champion swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith says it was an “open secret” among USA Swimming’s leadership that her coach sexually abused her as a teen.

The former Olympian says in a lawsuit that Sean Hutchison sexually molested her for the first time in 2006 when she was 16. Hutchison has previously denied the allegations.

Instead of acting on the information, the lawsuit says, officials engaged in a cover-up to shield Hutchison from consequences.

Hutchison and USA Swimming, the governing body for competitive swimming in the United States, are among those named in a lawsuit filed Monday in California alleging sexual abuse of a minor, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. USA Swimming declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Smith, 28, first went public with her account in January. In the lawsuit, she says Hutchison kissed, fondled and performed oral sex on her when she was a minor, before they had intercourse for the first time when she was 18. She also accuses him of taking nude photos of her as a minor.

Hutchison’s lawyer did not return a phone call Monday requesting comment. In January, Hutchison said in a statement that he had a “committed relationship” with Smith after the 2012 Olympics that lasted more than a year.

“I absolutely deny having any sexual or romantic relationship with her before she was old enough to legally make those decisions for herself,” he said through his attorney. “Prior to that time, I did nothing to ‘groom’ her.”

Since speaking up, Smith said she has received a flood of support that convinced her to seek accountability through litigation.

“Organizations like USA Swimming have long been in a position to deter, detect, and discipline sexual abuse and have done little or nothing to do such in an effort to protect their public image,” she said in a statement.

“By doing nothing, it enabled Sean to abuse me for a decade. During that decade, he stole many things from me, including my swimming career, my college experience, friendships, my virginity, and ultimately my Olympic dream.”

USA Swimming declined to comment on the lawsuit’s specifics given the pending litigation.

“As expressed earlier this year, we respect Ariana Kukors’ bravery in stepping forward and sharing her story. We have been in regular contact with her legal team over the last several months and will continue to work with them and Ariana through this process.”

The lawsuit accuses top USA Swimming officials of manipulating an internal background screening to omit complaints or negative references for Hutchison and other coaches — creating a culture in which it claims “pedophile coaches” such as Hutchison were given cover to abuse young athletes.

Smith says she was 13 when Hutchison became her coach at King Aquatic Club in Seattle, Washington, in 2002. There, Hutchison began grooming Smith to manipulate her and gain her trust, the lawsuit says. King Aquatic Center is accused in the lawsuit of failing to protect Smith from Hutchison. The center did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

From 2002 to 2005, Smith traveled with Hutchison to several meets across California, where the lawsuit claims Hutchison’s inappropriate behavior escalated to touching in front of others and behind closed doors. Then, at the 2006 U.S. Nationals in Irvine, California, Hutchison put his hand in Smith’s pants and molested her, the lawsuit claims. The behavior was repeated in 2006 during training in Newport Beach, California, and at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Victoria, British Columbia, the lawsuit claims.

Some of the meets were organized by Western Zone Swimming and Pacific Northwest Swimming — regional governing bodies for the sport. They are named in the lawsuit, accused of failing to protect Smith from Hutchison. Western Zone Swimming did not return emails and phone calls requesting comment. Pacific Northwest Swimming referred inquiries to USA Swimming.

USA Swimming head coach Mark Schubert is accused in the lawsuit of failing to report Hutchison’s alleged abuse. As USA Swimming’s National Team head coach from June 2006 to November 2010, the lawsuit claims Schubert saw Hutchison hugging and inappropriately touching Smith at three international competitions.

Schubert did not respond to a voice mail on Monday requesting comment.

Hutchison was the head coach of the U.S. women’s team in 2009 and also was one of the Olympic coaches in 2008 at the Beijing Games. When Hutchison moved to California that year to coach at a training center, Smith joined the roster of elite swimmers there, her lawyers said previously.

By 2010, Smith was an adult in an abusive relationship, the lawsuit claims. That same year, Schubert reported the two to USA Swimming, commencing what the lawsuit calls a “sham investigation” that found no wrongdoing by Hutchison, the lawsuit said.

Because of Hutchison’s “position of power and control” over Smith, and the psychological impact of the abuse, Smith failed to recognize the mental and physical toll the interactions with her coach had taken on her until 2015, the lawsuit says.

“Not all athletes will become Olympians, but all athletes deserve the right to feel safe on the pool deck,” Smith said in a statement.