GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Zimmerman, a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame who has been accused of covering up the alleged sexual abuse of a 13-year-old female figure skater in 2017, is a credentialed coach at the U.S. national figure skating championships this week.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport has opened an investigation into an allegation that French Olympic pairs skater Morgan Cipres sent the 13-year-old two photos of his penis in December 2017, as reported by USA TODAY Sports last month, citing the girl, her parents and emails. The girl and her parents said that Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana, Cipres’ coaches, tried to keep the family from reporting the alleged incident to authorities by shaming and threatening the girl as Cipres, who then was 26, prepared for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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Morgan Cipres, left, is shown with John Zimmeran, far right — and Cipres' partner, Vanessa James — after completing the free program at the Olympics in 2018. (Photo: Jean Catuffe, Getty Images)
While Zimmerman is coaching this week in Greensboro, Fontana is coaching at the European Championships in Graz, Austria. Neither has been restricted from working at these major championships because SafeSport has only just begun its investigation and there have been no restrictions or suspensions placed on them, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because the inquiry is private.
In a statement to USA TODAY Sports, U.S. Figure Skating, the national governing body for the sport, said: “U.S. Figure Skating will not comment on the status of any particular investigation, including whether or not there is an investigation pending.”
Zimmerman and Fontana, who are married, have denied the allegations, while Cipres said he had “nothing to say about this allegation.”
In another development, the lawyer for the girl and her family said that after Zimmerman was told about the alleged incident involving Cipres and the girl, he decided to allow Cipres to coach the girl one-on-one the following morning in a regularly scheduled training session. Those training sessions at the rink in Wesley Chapel, Florida went on for an week.
“Even after learning about the disturbing allegations, John Zimmerman continued to allow Morgan Cipres to have contact with this child,” Andrea Lewis told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s just unfathomable.”
While Zimmerman and Fontana were the girl’s official coaches, Cipres occasionally worked with her.
Paul Greene, the attorney for Zimmerman and Fontana, did not return messages seeking comment.
Zimmerman and Fontana were made aware of the nude photos in a meeting at their home Dec. 3, 2017, not long after they were sent, the girl and her parents said.
The girl and her parents said that instead of going to police or SafeSport, which opened in March 2017 to investigate sexual abuse in Olympic sports, Zimmerman and Fontana implored them to stay quiet because Cipres and his pairs partner Vanessa James were in the final stages of their preparation for the Olympics in South Korea, where they finished fifth.
The girl and her parents allege Zimmerman and Fontana intimidated the girl for several weeks, telling her that she was at fault for receiving the pictures because she was a “pretty girl and men have their needs,” that no one would believe her and that she would be shamed on social media, particularly in France, where Cipres is popular.
The practice sessions in which Cipres worked with his alleged victim began the morning of Dec. 4, 2017, Lewis said.
Lewis also described as “abhorrent” comments made by rink owner Gordie Zimmermann about the girl in a USA TODAY Sports story last week.
“I think there’s a situation with a young girl, a 13-year-old at that time, very disturbing social media situations out there of things that this girl that I’ve heard say about people,” Zimmermann said. “I think she’s dangerous as hell, I think the girl is dangerous. This girl was in our building. … The parents were told that she probably needs some supervision.”
Said Lewis: “Blaming a child for being victimized by an adult is abhorrent and wildly irresponsible. This is exactly why victims – especially children – are often reluctant to come forward to report abuse."
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