By Phuong Le / Associated Press
SEATTLE — A U.S. Olympic champion swimmer has accused a team coach of sexually abusing her starting when she was 16, the latest misconduct allegations against those charged with caring for young athletes.
Ariana Kukors, now 28, also told authorities that Sean Hutchison took thousands of sexually explicit photographs of her, according to a search warrant document filed by a federal agent.
She told officers that he kissed and touched her when she was 16 and engaged in sexual activity with her when she was 17 at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Victoria, British Columbia, the document said.
Hutchison denies abusing Kukors and has not been charged with a crime. U.S. authorities and police seized electronic devices from his Seattle apartment this week that they say may contain evidence, the Seattle PI reported .
Hutchison faced an investigation by USA Swimming in 2010 over his ties to Kukors but it was closed with no misconduct found. USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, said Thursday that it learned of the underage abuse allegations this week.
Kukors, the 2009 world champion in the 200-meter individual medley who placed fifth in that event in the 2012 Olympics, accused Hutchison of “grooming” her for sexual abuse when she was 13 and he was her coach at a Seattle-area swim club.
“I never thought I would share my story because I was able to leave a horrible monster and build a life I could have never imagined for myself,” she said in a statement released through her attorneys Wednesday. “But in time, I’ve realized that stories like my own are too important to go unwritten.”
Hutchison, 46, who was an assistant coach on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, said the two were in a relationship after the 2012 Olympics and that she lived in his Seattle home for more than a year.
“At no time did I ever abuse Ariana Kukors or do anything with her that was not consensual,” he said in a statement released by his attorney. “I absolutely deny having any sexual or romantic relationship with her before she was old enough to legally make those decisions for herself. Prior to that time, I did nothing to ‘groom’ her.”
The investigation comes amid scrutiny over the supervision of people who work with young athletes. Former sports doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, was sentenced recently to decades in prison for sexual abusing young girls in his care. The case led to a reckoning for the gymnastics governing body, with top executives resigning and the entire board of directors planning to step down as requested by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Kukors’ attorney in California, Robert Allard, compared his client’s case to the one against Nassar.
“Much like the USOC knew about Larry Nassar years before his arrest and did nothing, USA Swimming had notice in 2010 that Sean Hutchison was involved in an inappropriate coach-athlete relationship with Ariana and took no actions to protect her or other swimmers,” he said in a statement.
USA Swimming said that Kukors’ statement was the first time it learned of the allegations and that “our hearts go out to Ariana and the difficulty she has gone through to reach this point of disclosure.” It said it was notified in January of a case against Hutchison filed with the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
USA Swimming said it hired a private investigator in 2010 after learning of rumored relationship between Hutchison and Kukors, who was then 21. The organization said both parties denied a romantic or sexual relationship and the investigation was closed without penalties.
Hutchison left coaching afterward but remains a member of USA Swimming as the owner of member club King Aquatic near Seattle, the organization said. Emails to the club were not immediately returned Thursday.
Police in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines began investigating Jan. 23 after getting a report from Seattle police about allegations of sex crimes at a pool. They were alleged to have occurred between 2002 and 2007.
Authorities, which notified the U.S. Department of Homeland Security because of potential crimes outside the state, say detectives are working to determine what crimes are within the statute of limitations, where else they may have occurred and whether other potential victims or witnesses exist.
Kukors said she came forward to empower other victims.
“Not for the sake of you knowing my story, but for the little girls and boys whose lives and future hangs in the grasp of a horribly powerful and manipulative person,” she said.
“That they may not have to go through the same pain, trauma, horror and abuse. That their parents, mentors and guardians are better able to spot the signs of grooming and realize its tragic consequences before it’s too late,” she said.