World Champion Swimmer Speaks out to Decade of Abuse

Federal Way’s Ariana Kukors Smith filed a civil suit in Orange County Superior Court against her former coach Sean Hutchison in February, and is set to be heard in upcoming weeks. Other defendants named include former Olympic swim coach Mark Schubert, Hutchinson’s company Aquatic Management Group, Western Zone Swimming, the King Aquatic Club and Pacific Northwest Swimming. The complaint for damages in the suit includes sexual abuse of a minor, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Hutchison has not been criminally charged as the investigation is ongoing.

“It’s sad to see people in power abuse that power…that something can go on for so long without having anyone to turn to or to go to, and having it kind of kept on the down-low,” Seattle University junior and Olympia-based swimmer Jenessa Schulte said. “It’s so important that these stories get told because, in any sport, you’re trusting these people and you’re around them so often… to have something like this happen is an abuse of power.”

At the time of the allegations, Hutchinson was the CEO of King Aquatic Club, and his bio was deleted overnight from the website. King Aquatic from Federal Way is a large and prominent team in Washington swimming.

“As expressed earlier this year, we respect Ariana Kukors’ bravery in stepping forward and sharing her story. We have been in regular contact with her legal team over the last several months and will continue to work with them and Ariana through this process,” USA swimming said in a statement released on May 21. King Aquatics has neglected to respond to press inquiries.

“When I was 15 I didn’t have a great plan. All I wanted to do was be an Olympic gold medalist. That’s it,” Kukors said to the Orange County Register. “So here’s this human being who’s 18 years older, who’s controlling everything, who’s my first sexual experience but was also telling me, ‘I’m the one to make you that Olympic gold medalist.’”

Kukors articulates the abuse she experienced in her website titled “My Story.” The lawsuit alleges that USA Swimming knew about the sexual relationship when Kukors was 16 and mishandled its later investigation to favor Hutchinson.

Kukors cited Hutchinson’s “grooming” techniques in the lawsuit—a term for child molesters who earn a minor’s trust before they are old enough to consent. He was in Kukors’ life for a decade. Kukors writes Hutchinson masked his molestation and sexual abuse as a “great love story.”

“He said he loved me, and I thought he held the keys to my future—not just to my swimming career, but to my whole life,” Kukors wrote on her blog. She was 16 at the time, the year their relationship turned sexual.

Kukors, a top recruit in the nation at the time, committed to the University of Washington, where Hutchinson cut a deal with the program where Kukors would swim for UW if he continued to coach her. The UW aquatics program was cut two years later.

While on her Team USA debut at the 2006 Pan Pacific Games in Victoria, British Columbia, Hutchinson would sneak Kukors “off-site for coffee” to take advantage of “any chance he could” to molest her.

“When I’m looking at this and I’m in pain and my husband is having to sit with me on the floor as I’m a ball of tears because I’m trying to understand why people would leave a 15-year-old girl in such an abusive situation? Why would they knowingly do that?” Kukors said. “That 15-year-old turns into a young woman who is now dealing with all of that, that they swept aside and completely neglected and essentially that’s why this next action needs to be taken.”

With every swimming accomplishment, the reliance of Hutchinson only grew. After missing the 2008 Olympics by eight hundredths of a second, Kukors went on to break two world records and win gold in the 2009 World Championships.

Kukors was training herself for the 2012 Olympics after rumors at the Fullerton Aquatic Sports Team (FAST) put her relationship with Hutchinson in jeopardy. Hutchinson “forbade” her to go back to FAST.

“One year out from the Olympics the world record-holder is training herself,” Kukors wrote on her post.

The night before the 2012 Olympic 200 Intermediate Medley final (where she placed fifth, three seconds off her world record), Hutchison kept her up until 2 a.m. talking on the phone. She was on a 3:30 a.m. shuttle the next morning to catch a flight, leaving only halfway through the games, to move in with Hutchinson. At their shared residence in Seattle, Kukors name was not on the lease (“because it was public record”), but she was paying for the rent most months, and she never had a key.

“It wasn’t like a normal living situation,” Kukors said.

Kukors hopes that by coming forward with her story, she will help others find their voice and help athlete’s families “spot the signs of grooming and realize its tragic consequences before it’s too late.”

Jacqueline may be reached at
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