Just days after a former speedskater and Saratoga Springs native alleged that she had sexual contact as a 15-year-old with Olympian Andy Gabel, a second former speedskater came forward Friday, telling The Associated Press she was raped at age 15 by the one-time leader of the U.S. short track program, then manipulated into an illicit three-year relationship that ended at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.
Nikki Meyer, who was known by her maiden name of Nikki Ziegelmeyer when she won short track relay medals for the U.S. at the Albertville and Lillehammer Games, delivered the most recent accusations against Gabel, a medalist himself who competed in four Olympics, was a former president of U.S. Speedskating and, until last week, held a prominent position at the International Skating Union.
“He wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t the god of speedskating,” Meyer, now 37, told the AP in an hour-long telephone interview from her hometown in suburban St. Louis. “He’s a child molester. He’s a rapist. He’s a sexual abuser. He’s a pedophile. By no means should anybody think he is anything more than that.”
Gabel, now 48, issued a statement to the AP acknowledging he made mistakes during his skating career, but strongly denied forcing himself on anyone.
“I want to emphasize there was no incident of any abuse ever,” Gabel said. “I never forced myself on any individual, and any allegations of that nature are absolutely false. Any relationship I had was consensual.”
He went on to say, “Looking back on it now, I understand that my conduct nearly 20 years ago and longer was still inappropriate. I’ve apologized publicly for that and I’m sorry for crossing that line. I understand that inappropriateness more than ever now.”
Last week, Brigid “Bridie” Farrell, who graduated from Saratoga Springs High School, told Milwaukee public radio station WUWM that she had an improper relationship with Gabel during the 1990s, starting when she was also 15 and he was 33.
Farrell, who occasionally returns to the Saratoga area, said she was “starstruck” by the older Gabel, even though she knew the relationship was wrong.
Farrell came close but fell short of making the U.S. Olympic team in 1998, 2002 and 2006. The abuse she alleges had nothing to do with her failure to reach the Olympics, she said, but it led to depression and an eating disorder.
Gabel said he resigned from the International Skating Union and U.S. Speedskating “because I care about the athletes and the sport that I have given so much of my life to, and I did not want this type of story to have any adverse affects on the athletes, the organizations and the progress of this sport.”
Meyer said she came forward after reading about Farrell’s allegations and discussing them with other former skaters on social media.
“It was almost like a carbon copy of a chapter in my life,” Meyer said. “How he pursued her, how he made her feel special, how he made her keep it a secret.”
But Meyer’s accusations were far more shocking. She said Gabel raped her shortly after she arrived at the national training center in Marquette, Mich., in the summer of 1991, a few months shy of her 16th birthday. It happened, she said, after she went to Gabel’s room seeking advice on how to adjust the bend in her skates.
“He said, ‘Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be back in a minute,’” Meyer said, her voice quivering. “Not even a minute later, the lights turned off and he came around the corner at me. He pushed me on the bed and jumped on top of me. He proceeded to try to kiss me and pull down my shorts.
“He kept saying, ‘I know why you came to my room. I know why you came to my room.’ I was trying to get him off of me. I was like, ‘No, please stop.’ At that point, I was trying to talk him out of what was inevitably happening. His reaction was more disappointment and being aggravated at me. It was like, how could I not be enjoying this? Why am I ruining this sexual experience for him?”
Asked if she was raped, Meyer said, “That word has always sort of freaked me out. But, yes, it was intercourse.”
Before she left the room, she said Gabel issued a chilling admonition. “This never happened,” he said, according to Meyer. “If you try to tell anybody, they will not believe you.”
Meyer said she ran across the hall to tell a couple of fellow skaters, but they replied that she was just homesick and looking for attention. She said she didn’t want to tell her parents because she believed they would bring her home from the training center, ruining her Olympic chances.
Meyer said she attempted to stay away from Gabel, but he kept pursuing her.
“Originally, I thought that was his way of trying to apologize to me,” she said. “In reality, that was actually his manipulative way of gaining control over me. He was making me feel as though he could have any of us girls. He could be with a grown woman, but he wanted me. He made me feel special, as though he really, really liked me. After being pursued for so long, I guess he broke my spirit. He broke me down where I did believe he really liked me and wanted to be with me.”
U.S. Speedskating said it was not aware of Farrell’s allegations until she made them to the media. The organization said Friday that, through a referral from the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Safe Sport program, it has hired the Chicago-based law firm Sidley Austin LLP to investigate all accusations involving Gabel.
“U.S. Speedskating will not tolerate abuse of any kind and we intend to investigate these claims, and any others that arise, thoroughly,” the organization said in a statement.
Gabel was chairman of the ISU’s short track technical committee at the time of his resignation from the international governing body. He also stepped down from a panel that oversees the National Speedskating Hall of Fame, of which he is a member.
“Nearly two decades ago, I made personal mistakes and looking back on it now, I wish I had been more mature and made better choices,” Gabel told the AP.
Meyer said the relationship with Gabel finally ended at the Lillehammer Olympics, where they both won medals.
“I was 18 by then. I wanted to be more open,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Who cares what people think? I’m old enough to make my own decisions. You’re old enough to make your own decision.’ But he wasn’t willing to take that step. By then, I had matured enough and it was kind of like a light bulb turned on. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve wasted the last three years of my life waiting for this opportunity to finally arrive when we could be more open with this. But he used me the last three years because he could.’ I was disgusted and mortified and really (ticked) off that he didn’t want me to come out with it.”
Meyer said she’s not sure if she will pursue criminal charges against Gabel, or if she even can because of the possible statute of limitations. But she hopes he receives a lifetime ban from U.S. Speedskating and that he’s removed from the Milwaukee-based Hall of Fame.