Olympian John Zimmerman Suspended, Accused of Covering Up Sexual Abuse

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2021

Figure skater John Zimmerman arrives for a gala benefiting Figure Skating In Harlem at Central Park's Wollman Rink Monday, March 31, 2008, in New York.  (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Former Olympic figure skater and U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Famer John Zimmerman has been suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport after allegedly failing to report sexual abuse against a 13-year-old girl in 2017, according to Christine Brennan of USA Today.

Zimmerman, who was coaching the girl, was allegedly told in 2017 that French Olympic figure skater Morgan Cipres sent two pictures of his penis to the girl. Zimmerman was also Cipres' coach, and the girl and her parents say both Zimmerman and his wife, Silvia Fontana, told them not to go to the authorities because Cipres and his pairs partner Vanessa James were in preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Per Brennan: "The girl and her parents allege that Zimmerman and Fontana intimidated the girl for several weeks, telling her that she was at fault for receiving the pictures because she was a 'pretty girl and men have their needs,' that no one would believe her and that she would be shamed on social media, particularly in France, where Cipres was popular."

The girl and her parents say that Vinny Dispenza, a coach who works with Zimmerman and Fontana at the AdventHealth Center Ice rink in Florida, initiated the sending of the photos and also threatened the girl.

"If I said something, he said I would never skate again," the girl said.

The girl's tutor, who learned of the alleged pictures, sent an email to psychologist Dara Bushman in 2017, and Bushman contacted authorities. But, according to her parents, the girl would not talk with police at the time.

A friend of the family did report the situation to SafeSport—which was formed in 2017 to investigate sexual abuse cases in Olympic sports—in 2019, however, and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in Florida reopened the investigation in June 2020.

Per Brennan, the 47-year-old Zimmerman is now banned from "participation in any capacity in any program, activity, event or competition sponsored by, organized by or under the auspices of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and the national governing body for the sport (U.S. Figure Skating in this case), or at a facility under the jurisdiction of the USOPC or USFS."

Zimmerman competed at the 2002 Olympics, finishing fifth in pairs with partner Kyoko Ina.