In 1980, Debbie Denithorne was just an 11-years old Olympic swimmer hopeful when she began training under coach Andy King.
“I could be an elite swimmer, perhaps an Olympian,” Denithorne remembered King telling her parents. “This was wonderful news because I had dreamed of being an Olympian, and it legitimized that dream because Andy King had coached Olympians.”
King allegedly began grooming Denithorne into a sexual relationship shortly after she started training with him at San Ramon Valley Aquatics.
Now, 40 years later, she is filing a lawsuit claiming that USA Swimming, including former executive director Chuck Wielgus, and other top officials, were aware of King’s predatory behavior but refused to address it.
The suit alleges USA Swimming, and other top officials, including the local associations and clubs, helped create a culture of abuse that exposed dozens of underage swimmers to sexual abuse and harassment. The swimmers claim that this culture continues to exist within USA Swimming.
According to the filing, the sexual abuse began when she was 12 and King sexually assaulted her at USA Swimming sanctioned meets. She said she was just 15 when King had sexual intercourse with her for the first time at the 1984 U.S. Championships in Fort Lauderdale.
Denithornes, now referred to as Debra Grodensky, said; “I truly believe my life trajectory would have been drastically different if USA Swimming did not have a culture that enabled coaching sexual abuse.”
Grodensky along with five other women filed a series of civil suits against USA Swimming, its Southern and Northern California associations, and former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Mitch Ivey, U.S. national team director Everett Uchiyama, and King in Alameda County Superior Court.
“We are aware of the information publicly released today in California,” USA Swimming said Wednesday in an unattributed statement. “The organization and its current leadership remain committed to providing a safe environment and a positive culture for all its members. The three named offenders have long been on USA Swimming’s list of Individuals Permanently Suspended or Ineligible for Membership due to the allegations of misconduct from the 1980s and 1990s, and the U.S. Center for SafeSport has recognized and honored our bans.”
The suit filed on behalf of Grodensky and three other women alleges that USA Swimming and Pacific Swimming, USA’s Swimming’s Northern California association, enabled Andrew King to use his position of authority to manipulate and sexually assault over a dozen minor female swimmers over a 30-year period.
“Both organizations could have taken action to stop this serial pedophile coach from harming children but chose to look the other way. USA Swimming and Pacific Swimming placed the profits and reputation of their organization above the safety of their young, vulnerable female athletes.”
“I want this lawsuit to wake up USA Swimming and to push them to mandate prevention, education, and training for its coaches, officials, volunteers, athletes, and parents,” Grodensky said.
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