U.S. Figure Skating honored coach once suspended for alleged sexual relationship with 16-year-old

U.S. Figure Skating, already facing intense criticism for hiring the supporter of a top male skater who was accused of sexually assaulting at least four female skaters, is now under scrutiny for honoring a male coach who was suspended in 2010 for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.

Last Thursday, USFS and the Professional Skaters Association, the sport’s coaches organization, gave their developmental coach of the year award to Christopher Pottenger and his Pottenger Academy, a group of skating coaches based in Anaheim, Calif.

On May 1, 2010, Pottenger was suspended by the PSA for six months for “inappropriate and unethical conduct” that USA TODAY Sports reported stemmed from a sexual relationship with the 16-year-old male skater when Pottenger was 22.

Pottenger also was placed on probation for an additional 24 months after his suspension.

“I was a coach dating a skater,” Pottenger told USA TODAY Sports in March 2018. “I was never his coach and never gave him a lesson.”

Asked how old the skater was, Pottenger said, “I don’t recall that right now. I don’t recall that. I remember reviewing all the laws.”

Asked if he ever had a relationship with someone under 18, Pottenger replied, “I think that’s the end of my statement.”

USA TODAY Sports is not using the name of the 16-year-old boy because he was a minor.

MORE John Coughlin scandal rocked U.S. Figure Skating. Now a supporter of his has been hired.

PSA executive director Jimmie Santee said in a phone interview Wednesday that the names of the candidates for various awards, including the developmental coach of the year award, emerged from a USFS committee with input from USFS staff. He said voting for the award was done by a USFS coaches committee and the PSA board.

“We have always publicly shared our findings, going back a number of years,” Santee said. “We’ve never hidden anything. Perhaps the skating community needs to re-evaluate the process for recognition.”

A USFS spokeswoman did not reply to USA TODAY Sports’ request for comment.

Ashley Wagner, the three-time national champion, 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist and 2016 world silver medalist who came forward August 1, 2019, as one of the four women with sexual assault allegations against John Coughlin, also brought attention to Pottenger’s award in a tweet Wednesday morning:

“A coach who had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 16 year old just won an award for Developmental Coach of the Year. Some people are not redeemable, and yet we continue to celebrate them. It’s the CULTURE.”

USA TODAY Sports reported Tuesday that more than four years after U.S. skating was rocked by Coughlin’s suspension and death by suicide, USFS has hired a well-known social media supporter of Coughlin’s for a key role working with its athletes.

Kelsey Parker Gislason, whose Facebook posts praising Coughlin have carried the hashtags #Justiceforjohncoughlin and #TheJohnIknew and in some cases have been visible publicly for more than four years, was recently hired by USFS to be senior manager, high performance development.

Wagner strongly criticized the decision to hire Parker Gislason in an Instagram story video in early May.

“Around the time that women including myself were coming forward with our experiences of sexual assault with John Coughlin, this individual was extremely vocal against the truth of our experiences,” she said. " … As soon as you put that out on social media, you should become unhireable for certain positions.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a leading advocate for U.S. Olympic sexual abuse survivors, spoke out against the hiring of Parker Gislason in an interview with USA TODAY Sports Tuesday.

“I am deeply troubled and astonished by this and I want an explanation for how it could be possibly justified,” he said. “I will consider measures Congress could take after talking to some of my colleagues. It seems to fly in the face of all the reforms we have discussed and studied and really contradicts all the reforms that athletes have championed so heroically.”

Parker Gislason did not reply to several text and voice messages seeking comment.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USFS honored coach suspended for alleged relationship with 16-year-old