In this file photo from Dec. 27, 2019, South Korean speed skater Kim Bo-reum reacts to her finish in the women's 5,000m race at the National Speed Skating Championship at Taereung International Rink in Seoul. (Yonhap)
A years long controversy in South Korean speed skating took another twist Wednesday, with the announcement that one athlete has sued her former teammate over emotional distress.
Legal representatives for the speed skater Kim Bo-reum said she is seeking 200 million won ($182,590) in compensation for mental anguish caused by her former 2018 Olympic teammate, Noh Seon-yeong. The suit was filed last November, said Kim's lawyer, Heo Won-rok of the Seoul-based firm Q1.
Kim and Noh were at the center of a bullying scandal during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea. Kim was accused of purposely leaving Noh behind during a team pursuit race -- where teams are timed when the last of three skaters crosses the line -- and thus hurting the integrity of the competition. Kim was also heavily criticized for taking jabs at Noh in a post-race interview.
Kim was ultimately let off the hook by the sports ministry following its investigation into the matter -- but not before Noh went on a televised interview to claim that she was hung out to dry in the Olympics because skaters regarded as medal contenders, namely Kim, received preferential treatment from the national federation.
Kim was hospitalized soon after the Olympics for excessive stress, and her lawyer said Wednesday she has continued to receive extensive psychiatric treatment because of panic disorder and adjustment disorders.
"Kim was criticized to an unbearable degree because of a false interview given by the defendant," Heo said. "Kim has lost a great number of corporate sponsorships that caused her significant financial damage."
About a year after the Olympics, Kim told a televised interview that she had been verbally and emotionally abused by Noh and said she had evidence to back up her claims.
Heo said Kim has submitted handwritten testimonials from five of her teammates and a coach regarding Noh's apparent abuses, dating back to 2010.
"A lot of people still don't know the truth and point fingers at the plaintiff," Heo added. "(Kim) wanted a sincere apology from the defendant but she refused to offer one. She decided to file the suit to clear up misunderstandings before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics."
Noh has denied Kim's allegations of abuse.
Following the first hearing on the suit at Seoul Central District Court later Wednesday, Noh's legal representative, Lee In-jae of the Seoul law firm Woo Sung, said she plans to countersue Kim.
"Noh has not given any false statements in interviews. And we need to find out in court whether the plaintiff (Kim) really suffered from stress because of interviews by the defendant," Lee said. "Noh herself dealt with emotional distress from an interview given by the defendant. We'll file our own suit on that basis."
As for allegations that Noh abused Kim, Lee appeared to acknowledge abusive behavior itself, while questioning the timing of Kim's suit.
"We have to see if the use of abusive language or violence among athletes can be established as illegal in court. The defendant is four years senior to the plaintiff, and nothing was done out of social norms," Lee said. "Even if it's ruled in court that (Noh's act) was illegal, the statutes of limitations have all expired because the incidents took place in 2011, 2013 and 2016. I wonder if it's even appropriate to file a suit on them at this point."
The next hearing is scheduled for March 17. (Yonhap)