I have heard that Ryan Shimabukuro was hurt by something I posted during the Olympic Games, and I'm pretty sure I know what it is. I'm sorry about a lot of things that I saw happening in this sport during my last 5 years competing in it. I'm sorry about certain pressures Ryan faced, as a coach, from the people who were overseeing his coaching performance. I'm extremely sorry about the attitudes of the Powers that Be (Oh, excuse me. I mean, "the powers that WERE!" Hooray for the Great Purge!!!) towards outsiders such as myself. I'm also sorry about the way the attitudes of Ryan's superiors towards me intersected with the working coach-athlete relationship I had with Ryan.
In this post, I'd like to talk about how the corrupt system of the old USSPEEDSKATING affected the way I worked with Ryan. I'd also like to talk about why there was no way Ryan could have been the coach I needed him to be at the Olympic Trials, and why I should never have expected him to be. Finally, I'd like to talk about where things stand right now and what we can all learn from this.
Ryan is a good coach and a good person. He always did whatever he could to help me with my skating technique and my equipment while we were on World Cup trips and my regular coach couldn't come along. But there was always a limit to what Ryan could do for me, because he worked for USSPEEDSKATING and I was an outspoken outcast.
Let me put it this way. Back in mid-1930's Germany, a good little German boy did not give a little Jewish girl a chunk of bread for her starving family that was hiding out in the attic next door, even though they had been friends at school. Back in Stalin's Russia, a good Communist college student did not study together with his former friend, the counterrevolutionary. These people "followed the protocol," and thus were able to keep on living and keep from being thrown into prison.
In the same way, Ryan had to "follow the USSPEEDSKATING protocol" when it came to working with me. He had to kick me out of a catered team dinner to which I was technically entitled, because the "current protocol" demanded it. He had to argue against me in the draw at the Olympic Trials, just hours after he had held the lap board for me in a race. And, whether the decision involved me or not, he cast his vote against adding two women to the Olympic Team in order to protect Amy Sannes's position on the team pursuit - a decision which was dead wrong, any way you look at it.
It wasn't Ryan's fault, it was just the current protocol. When the Nazis are in power, don't piss them off. When the Communists are in power, don't be seen hanging out with counterrevolutionaries, or you'll get hauled off to Siberia. When Crowe, Marquard, and the Cushman family are running your speedskating federation, dance to whatever tune they're playing, or you'll lose your job.
The little things Ryan had to do to me, politically, added up, but what really hurt me was the whoop-and-holler and "high-five" victory dance he and Tom Cushman did on the backstretch after Amy Sannes pulled a 38.5 out of her ass in the 500 meters at the Olympic Trials. I just felt that Sannes's performance, relative to the rest of the American women at the US Olympic Trials, was entirely artificial, because she was the only one of us who had the luxury of peaking specifically at that time. As the program director's coddled favorite, she was the only one who had the luxury of treating the fall world cups as a "write-off."
I see now that it is a personal problem of mine that I was unable to allow Ryan to be happy for Amy when he saw her skate a fast time. Maybe Ryan really felt he was applauding her return to her 2002 level of performance. But I was upset with him because I felt betrayed, because he was working with me, not with her. I felt he should have realized that the playing field was not level, and that he was applauding a hollow victory.
As it turned out in the ensuing months, Sannes's subpar performances at the World Sprints and at the Olympics were nothing more than a symptom of the disease within the old USSPEEDSKATING, and her outrageous peak at the Olympic Trials, while apparently a cause to celebrate at the time, was nothing more than another one of Cushman's screwup miscalculations.
Because of the way things ended up for me in USSPEEDSKATING, there was no way I could have expected Ryan to be the race coach I needed to help me succeed at the Olympic Trials. One of my friends told me, "When you've been treated so shoddily by an entire group of people in a sport, what you end up needing is not a race coach but a war god."
I really did need a war god by my side, more than anything else. I needed someone with an "Us Against Them" attitude. I needed someone who wanted the same thing I did, which was total destruction of the Chosen Ones. I needed someone whose burning rage and hatred matched my own. There was no way I could have expected this of Ryan.
It's not normal to come to the point of needing a war god instead of a race coach, and the old USSPEEDSKATING is responsible for setting up that condition for me.
I knew Ryan could see me getting seriously demoralized throughout the Olympic Trials. Truly, this event was a horrible nightmare for me, and I think Ryan could see how sick I was of fighting my war against USSPEEDSKATING. I also believe that he didn't think there was any way he could help me in terms of team selection. If I really wanted to know where he stood on that, I suppose I should have asked him at some point during the Trials, but even now I know I was trying to spare myself an answer that might have sent me over the edge.
But Ryan had a great deal of respect for my ability to fight my way through my races, and before my last 1000 meters, he said to me, "If this is to be the last race of your speedskating career, then go down swinging." It's funny - in this sport I always came out swinging, and now I was going down swinging. When it was all over and I'd had one of the best races of my life, Ryan said he was proud of me. He knows how much I love this sport.
It's such a shame that speedskating politics had to come between me and Ryan, but that's just the way it goes. Just as the good citizens of Germany are still asked the question, "Why did you let the holocaust happen?" there are certain truths that need to come out about how good people were pressured to behave under the corrupt system of the old USSPEEDSKATING. I never whitewashed anything. I had to tell the truth.
But when I told the true story of how the TOSH trainers were forced to deny me treatment before a World Cup, they were not offended, but rather were happy that I pointed out a major flaw in the system. They stood by my side and insisted that what they were forced to do was downright medically unethical.
In the end, did not the good guys win? Did not Marquard step down? Did not Cushman's incompetence become so glaringly obvious that he had to be let go? Did not Crowe get the boot? Did not the corrupt former leadership of USSPEEDSKATING come crashing down like Godzilla stomping on the thawing ice of a winter that has lasted WAY TOO LONG???
Now that logic and reason have prevailed, it seems that Ryan "the Flyin' Hawaiian," who was never really a part of the "Minnesota Northshore Royalty," is the last man standing. And now that he is the only one they still want to keep, isn't it awesome that he has received a great offer from a Japanese team, and is seriously considering taking it?
Ryan, I hope you take that offer, because I'm sure the Japanese can give you what you're worth. I hope you get to see what it's like to be a speedskating coach in a different system. And someday, when this all blows over, I hope that you and I can be friends again.