Controversy Erupts Between Olympic Diver, Coach
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The U.S. Olympic diving trials ended Sunday with one of the two qualifiers in the 10-meter platform event accusing the Olympic coach of harassment, assault and ``sheer hell.″
Less than an hour after becoming the final diver selected for the Atlanta Games, David Pichler embraced his teammates under a giant American flag in a picture of harmony before proceeding to turn the trials upside down.
Pichler, who qualified with Patrick Jeffrey, went public with a situation that has been brewing since September, when he left coach Ron O’Brien’s rigorous training program in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
``Since that time I have been harassed, I have been assaulted, I have been pushed, my family has been harassed and I’ve gone through constant problems from Ron O’Brien and his family,″ Pichler said.
``It’s been sheer hell on a regular basis. It’s just something that I wish no athlete would ever have to go through.″
Pichler’s outpouring was prompted by a reporter’s question about his feelings in making the team. As the story unfolded, Jeffrey sat silently next to Pichler with an amazed look on his face.
O’Brien would not comment on the circumstances of Pichler leaving his program. His son, Tim, who is assistant coach of his father’s Fort Lauderdale team, would say only that Pichler was dismissed because of ``disruptive type of behavior.″
Pichler said he had had to leave because the situation was affecting the program’s other divers.
``I feel that I have not done anything to affect Dave Pichler in any way,″ Ron O’Brien said. ``I haven’t really been around him since February except at competitions, so I’m not really sure what he’s alluding to.″
Ron O’Brien said he and Pichler no longer talk, at Pichler’s request.
Before the controversy, the men’s 10-meter final concluded with Jeffrey, who turns 31 on Monday, making the team eight years after finishing 12th in platform at the Seoul Olympics. He won the trials with 1,147.71 points.
Pichler was second with 1,140.48 points, holding off 16-year-old Troy Dumais of Ventura, Calif., who wound up third. The top two finishers qualify for the Atlanta Games.
``Making this Olympic team is more of an amazing thing to me than you could even imagine,″ Pichler said.
Pichler filed a formal complaint against O’Brien with U.S. Diving. Steve McFarland, president of the governing body, investigated the allegations and a confidential report was presented to U.S. Diving’s 21-member board of directors about a week ago.
``As a result, the board has voted to take no action against coach Ron O’Brien,″ U.S. Diving spokesman David Shatkowski said.
``It basically is a personal matter between coach O’Brien and David Pichler. Now they’re both members of the Olympic team,″ he said.
Pichler said he was interviewed for the investigation in the days leading to the trials, which he said wasn’t fair because it affected his training. He said he wasn’t surprised that O’Brien was cleared.
Pichler also accused Tim O’Brien of assaulting his companion, Steve Guiffre, on an airplane after the U.S. national championships in April.
Tim O’Brien and Guiffre exchanged words as the airplane sat on the tarmac at the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport on April 22.
No one was arrested, although Tim O’Brien filed an incident report with police and obtained a restraining order that prevents Guiffre from coming within 50 feet of any member of the O’Brien family, including Ron.
``I was in row 36 and his companion was in first class, and traveled 32 rows to the back of the plane to within an inch of my nose and made a statement,″ Tim O’Brien said.
Pichler, 27, accused him of pushing Guiffre. Responded Tim O’Brien, ``I asked him (Guiffre) to get out of my face. I pushed him away from me.″
Guiffre, 32, showed up at the meet in Indianapolis and was charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery Thursday night, according to Marion County Jail records.
The charges resulted when Guiffre interfered with police officers who were trying to calm him down and get him to leave the Indiana University Natatorium, police records show.
Guiffre was taken to jail and released Friday morning on $100 cash bond.
After Pichler left O’Brien’s program, he went to train under Randy Ableman, who heads the diving team at the University of Miami.
Pichler later departed Ableman’s program in May and returned to his college coach, Vince Panzano, at Ohio State.
``Dave’s been with three coaches in the last year. He’s been asked to leave our program, he’s been asked to leave the Miami program and now he’s in Ohio,″ Tim O’Brien said. ``It’s not the coaches that are the problem.″
Ableman denied that Pichler was kicked off the team, but sources close to the Miami program confirmed he was.
Pichler and Ron O’Brien won’t be able to get away from each other in Atlanta, which could affect the harmony of the eight-member U.S. squad.
Ron O’Brien will coach his eighth Olympic team at next month’s games, where Pichler will try to win the first international platform title of his 12-year career.
``I hope it will not affect the team,″ O’Brien said. ``I have no adverse feelings for Dave. I’ll do nothing to keep him from being successful.″
Pichler isn’t so sure.
``I just want this experience for myself and this Olympic team to be peaceful and good,″ he said, ``and I know at this point it will not be that way for me with Ron O’Brien because he has continually aggravated and played games with me.″