(ATTN: ADDS Shim's apology in para 5)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Olympic short track speed skating champion Shim Suk-hee has lost her court battle against a ban from the Beijing Winter Games, legal sources said Tuesday, as her bid for a third straight Olympic appearance crashed and burned.
The sources said the Seoul Eastern District Court rejected Shim's application for an injunction to lift a two-month ban by the Korea Skating Union (KSU) issued in December.
Shim, a two-time Olympic relay gold medalist, was suspended for making disparaging comments on her teammates and coaches in a text exchange with a coach during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Those expletive-laden text messages were reported by an online outlet in October last year. Shim, who had won the national Olympic trials in May 2021, was immediately dropped from the national team, as the KSU launched an investigation into Shim's action.
The KSU's two-month suspension, handed down on Dec. 21, ruled Shim out of the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Winter Games. Instead of appealing the decision with the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC), Shim went straight to court and filed for an injunction on Jan. 6. The hearing was held last Wednesday and the court sided with the KSU.
"I humbly accept the decision of the court," Shim said in a statement released by her agency, Galaxia SM. "I would like to apologize to everyone who suffered from my action."
At the hearing, Shim's attorney, Yoon Joo-tak, argued the skater had been unjustly punished for text messages leaked illegally and that the KSU's suspension amounted to double punishment, because she had already been penalized by getting cut from the national team in October.
Kim Gyeong-hyeon, the KSU's legal representative, countered that Shim's action during the 2018 Olympics had damaged the integrity and dignity of the sport and thus warranted suspension.
Kim also said cutting Shim from the team in October didn't constitute punishment, because the KSU had to protect skaters who had been subjected to Shim's denigration and keep them separated from Shim.
As for the contested nature of how Shim's text messages became public, Kim said the evidentiary standards aren't as strictly applied in civil procedures as in criminal cases.
"The suspension was based on the KSU's independent investigation, and there is no issue with that," Kim said Tuesday, moments after the court rejected Shim's application. "The KSU could have gone further with a longer ban based on its disciplinary regulations but settled on two months."
In the aftermath of the court decision, Yoon said Shim will not appeal.
"I am most disappointed that the court regarded private conversations as something that violated dignity," the attorney said. "Even if we were to appeal this ruling, her two-month ban will have run its course. It makes no difference."
This is a stunning fall from grace for Shim, who cut a sympathetic figure in 2018 when she revealed she'd been sexually and physically assaulted by one of the national team coaches, Cho Jae-beom.
Cho has since been sentenced to 13 years in prison. Shim's text exchanges were included in an argument submitted by Cho's lawyer for the trial before they were leaked to the media.
South Korea, the most successful country in Olympic short track history with 24 gold medals, will now forge ahead without Shim.
The KSU will finalize its Olympic entries this week, with the deadline to submit them to the International Skating Union (ISU) set for next Monday. The national skating body had expected the court decision to come around Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest and had scheduled the meeting of its officials to determine the Olympic squad for Thursday.
Even if Shim had won the injunction bid, the KSU would still have had the final say on her Olympic fate. It could have left Shim off the team on the grounds that she hadn't competed or had any structured training over the past few months.
Her chemistry with the rest of the team would also have been an issue. In the same text chain with the coach, Shim also made comments that seemed to suggest she would deliberately take down a teammate, Choi Min-jeong, out of spite. The two skaters indeed got tangled up and crashed into the wall together during the women's 1,000m final at the PyeongChang Games.
The KSU let Shim off the hook on charges of intentional push-off, but the bridge between Shim and Choi had already been burned. Choi publicly called on Shim to stop texting her and calling her in a belated attempt to apologize.
Choi, a double gold medalist from PyeongChang who was the runner-up to Shim in the Olympic trials, will now be the leader of the team in Beijing.