While an investigation into allegations of misconduct is ongoing, the US Center for SafeSport has temporarily barred US Olympic pairs figure skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield from having any contact with a dozen figure skaters and from coaching other athletes without another adult present to supervise.
Sappenfield, the 2008 Professional Skaters Association/U.S. Figure Skating coach of the year, coached three-time national champions Alexa and Chris Knierim to 15th place in the pairs competition and a team bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. She was the coach and close friend of John Coughlin, the two-time national pairs champion who committed suicide on Jan. 18, 2019, at the age of 33, one day after receiving an interim suspension from SafeSport following three allegations of sexual abuse.
One of the skaters Sappenfield, 50, is barred from contacting, 2016 U.S. pairs champion Tarah Kayne, discussed several allegations she reported to a SafeSport investigator, including one in which the coach’s constant verbal abuse, peppered with sexual comments, drove her to cut her left wrist with a razor blade in the summer of 2019 in her dorm room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“She was constantly talking about sex, about who I was dating, about my sex life,” said Kayne, 28, who recently retired from competitive skating. “It was completely inappropriate, but that’s what Dalilah does. She uses gossip from other skaters in the rink against you. She knew I was struggling with my mental health, but instead of helping me, she chose to make fun of me. She even went to other skaters and told them about it, calling me names and asking the guys why anyone would want to date me.”
Sappenfield, according to Kayne, called her one night in July 2019 and threatened to end her partnership with Danny O’Shea, with whom she won the 2016 national title, “not because of my skill set, she said, but because of the kind of person I was.”
Kayne claimed she cut her wrist that night. As she began to bleed profusely, she claimed she went to O’Shea’s room in the dorm to seek assistance. Kayne was afraid that going to the ER would enrage Sappenfield even more, so she and O’Shea used super glue to keep her skin together, according to Kayne. During her practice sessions with Sappenfield over the next few weeks, Kayne said she tried to conceal the scar by wearing long sleeves and wrapping her wrists with athletic tape.
The United States men’s gymnastics team, like Kayne, was practicing and living in the Olympic Training Center.
Kayne also stated that during her final months of coaching by Sappenfield, in the summer of 2020, Sappenfield forbade her from speaking on the ice, shutting her out and speaking only to O’Shea, despite the fact that they were all on the ice together, often just a few inches apart.
“I support Tarah in every way, as I did while we were partners for nine years,” O’Shea said in a text message. Tarah is a strong woman, and I am proud of her for speaking out. I hope her strength serves as a beacon for others. We made the decision as a group to leave a training environment that had become unhealthy for us. I support Tarah and SafeSport in their ongoing investigations.”
O’Shea, 30, is competing in Southern California this season with a new partner and new coaches.
Kayne stated that she intended to continue skating with O’Shea until the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Instead, beginning in November, Kayne will tour Europe with a skating show.
SafeSport was founded in March 2017 with the mission of investigating and resolving allegations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in Olympic sports. It issued temporary measures against Sappenfield on Sept. 3, including a no-contact directive prohibiting her from contacting the dozen skaters or their immediate families in any way, a prohibition on traveling with a minor athlete without other adults in the immediate travel party, and a requirement that another adult be present to directly supervise when she is coaching athletes.
SafeSport would not comment on the status of its investigation into Sappenfield other than to list the temporary measures on its website.