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November 25, 2009

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Norway fires coach for sexual comments

THE Norwegian Skating Association fired former US skater Peter Mueller as its speedskating coach mere months ahead of the Winter Olympics following allegations of sexual harassment, the association said on Monday.

"The governing board voted unanimously that the incident was so serious that we had no other choice than to cancel our contract with Peter Mueller ... effective immediately," the association's president, Vibecke Soerensen, said.

Earlier this month, Norwegian skater Maren Haugli accused Mueller, 55, of sexual harassment for a remark he made on October 31 at a team breakfast in Berlin ahead of the Speed Skating World Cup.

Soerensen called the remark "a serious violation of his contract" because Mueller failed to uphold "the sport's ethical values."

The decision to let Mueller go comes three months before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Norway's speedskating team was scheduled to travel to the US on Tuesday ahead of the games, but that trip has been postponed until tomorrow.


Mueller, who has coached the team for six years, said in a statement that he was "very disappointed" and denied having sexually harassed Haugli. "I made an untoward remark about her (Haugli)," he said. "I made the comment in a social setting, as a joke, and I didn't think those present took it to be anything other than that."

Mueller had apologized for the undisclosed remark at a press conference on Friday, saying that he hadn't realized at the time that it would offend Haugli.

Mueller also accused the Norwegian Skating Association of mishandling the situation, which has attracted considerable media attention in Norway. "I requested a meeting with the association president yesterday but was denied," he said.

He also said he was unsure what information the decision was based on since the association had not provided him with details of the findings of its investigation.

Mueller, who earlier coached the Netherlands, is widely credited with reviving a faltering Norwegian speedskating program. He won a gold medal in the 1,000 meter event at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.


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