Disputes over alleged mistreatment of athletes are nothing new in South Korea. Gifted children are drafted into the country's sporting machine and subjected to harsh training regimes and a boot-camp culture whose simple ethic, critics say, is that sticks are better than carrots. Still, many Koreans were shocked by descriptions of the violence and the age of the athletes: the skaters described in the letters are all teenagers.
Fourteen skating officials resigned over the controversy last week, including two coaches and six vice presidents of the Korea Skating Union, which oversees the national team. The coaches could not be reached for comment, but Lee Chi Sang, one of the vice presidents who resigned, calls the allegations "exaggerated" and insists coaches have the right to get rough. "To train the athletes to accomplish more, the coaches had no choice," says Lee. "It was not beating, it was not violence, it was punishment." It remains to be seen if the union will get a taste of its own medicine.