- Swimmer Ariana Kukors claims her childhood trainer “groomed” and pressured her into an abusive relationship, in a new essay
- She lied to family, friends and USA Swimming investigators about the relationship that lasted several years
- Law enforcement officials raided former trainer Sean Hutchinson’s home Tuesday, and continue to investigate for child exploitation
Former USA Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith accused her longtime coach Sean Hutchinson of “grooming” her for a relationship when he was in his thirties and she was 13, in a 4,000 article Friday.
Kukors also admitted that she lied to investigators hired by USA Swimming in 2011 to investigate the inappropriate relationship, and continued to date Hutchinson after he was no longer her trainer.
After the failure of USA Gymnastics to prevent the organization’s former head doctor Larry Nassar from abusing dozens of children under his care, the treatment of young athletes in the Olympic system is under heightened scrutiny from Congress, law enforcement and the public.
Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement raided Hutchinson’s Seattle home Tuesday and seized computers and other documents. A DHS agent said they found “hundreds of thousands” of naked pictures of Kukors, SeattlePI reported.
Kukors, who was a member of the 2012 Olympic team, first went public with her story Wednesday, but the new article is the longest allegation published so far. Hutchinson denies that he abused Kukors at any point. “At no time did I ever abuse Ariana Kukors or do anything with her that was not consensual,” Hutchinson said in a statement through his lawyer.
Hutchinson began grooming her for a relationship “almost immediately” when he became her trainer at King Aquatic Club in Seattle, Wash., according to Kukors. “Each of us had to shake his hand after every practice. A simple handshake, but it was a first step; contact,” Kukors wrote in the article shared with The Daily Caller News Foundation and published on a personal website.
Through the years of training Hutchinson allegedly increased the physical contact to hugs, and made explicit comments to her. When she was 15, he asked her if she was wearing underwear under her sweatpants, according to Kukors. When she said no, his face looked “almost mischievous as he was trying to gauge [her] response,” according to Kukors.
That was the “beginning of an extensive, abusive, and incredibly manipulative relationship,” she said.
Kukors said the “sexual activity” began when she was 16, and that the two engaged in “everything but” — explaining that Hutchinson “was saving that” for when Kukors turned 18.
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“He began by having me sit on his lap when we were alone, then progressed to kissing me in elevators, and touching me over my clothes. He once put a paper ring on my ring finger that read, ‘My beautiful Ari,’ and told me he wanted to spend his life with me. He was 34. I was 16,” Kukors wrote.
“I’d never been physical with anyone before but I now found myself alone with him, engaging in sexual acts and trying to hide my embarrassment when he sat in the women’s locker room and watched me shower,” she said. “But 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 said Hutchinson “meticulously controlled and manipulated” her, and that she “was lying to everyone” during their relationship, including her family. They continued their relationship in secret, with Hutchinson claiming to love her, she said.
Shortly after she turned 18, Kukors said she and Hutchinson traveled to a swim meet out-of-state. “Sean snuck me into his room to finally give me my ‘gift’; I’ll spare you the details, but the memory of that night will always haunt me,” Hutchinson wrote. After Kukors graduated high school, she continued to train with Hutchinson and also dated him. She eventually moved to California to train with the Fullerton Aquatic Sports Team, where Hutchinson had become a coach.
USA Swimming opened up an investigation into the relationship between Hutchinson and Kukors in 2010 based on the allegations, even though no one had filed an official complaint. The rumors also made it to The Washington Post, which published a story in December 2010, after which Hutchinson resigned as an elite coach.
“While it is not our policy to investigate in the absence of a formal complaint, we acted in the best interest of our athletes, coaches and organization to conduct a full investigation into this situation,” Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming’s executive director at the time, said in a statement quoted in The Washington Post.
The investigation uncovered nothing substantive, and USA Swimming quickly closed the matter and criticized those who spread the rumors. “All they could come up with was Ariana and Sean’s cars parked together at 5 a.m in the morning in front of Sean’s condo,” former Olympic coach Marc Schubert told CBS News. Schubert at that time coached Olympic hopefuls at FAST and said he reported the rumors to Hutchinson’s bosses.
Kukors said that she was interviewed briefly by phone, with investigators asking fewer than 20 questions. She denied any relationship. “The extent of my part in the investigation was me spending a few minutes on the phone with a private investigator. 19 questions I counted. I was scared. I lied. I had never felt more alone in all my life.”
After Hutchinson’s suspension in 2010, Kukors continued to see him even though he was not her trainer. She made the 2012 Olympic team and while she was away from him, claims he acted protective and manipulative. “That was my Olympic dream. Checking in with him constantly, sending him naked pictures every single day as he required of me, and trying not to have too much fun, for fear of him yelling at me,” Kukors wrote.
Kukors retired from swimming after the 2012 games, and moved to Seattle to live with Hutchinson until she broke off the relationship in 2013.
“I never thought I would share my story, because in so many ways, just surviving was enough,” she said. “I was able to leave a horrible monster, and build a life I could have never imagined for myself. But in time, I’ve realized that stories like my own are too important to go unwritten.”
Hutchinson has not been charged with any crime, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs a child exploitation investigations unit, implied that he is suspected of transmitting abusive photos of children online.
“We are still in the very preliminary stages of this investigation, but our top priority in all cases involving alleged online child exploitation is identifying any possible minor victims,” DHS spokeswoman Lori Haley told TheDCNF.
“I absolutely deny having any sexual or romantic relationship with her before she was old enough to legally make those decisions for herself,” Hutchinson said in a statement through his lawyer, Brad Meryhew. “Prior to that time, I did nothing to ‘groom’ her.”
Kukors’ attorneys did not immediately return TheDCNF’s request for comment.
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