Champion U.S. Figure Skater Found Dead At 33, 1 Day After Suspension

(Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

John Coughlin, a two-time U.S. champion figure skater, was found dead in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, one day after he was suspended from the sport.

Angela Laune, Coughlin’s sister, shared the news of his death in a Facebook post Friday night.

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“My wonderful strong, amazingly compassionate brother John Coughlin took his own life earlier today,” Laune wrote on Facebook late Friday night. “I have no words. I love you John.”

Kansas City police found Coughlin’s body at 4:54 p.m. on Friday, USA Today reported. Police told the news site that Coughlin died by suicide.

The 33-year-old figure skater twice won the U.S. pairs championship, in 2011 with Caitlin Yankowskas and in 2012 with Caydee Denney. He started figure skating with the Kansas City Figure Skating Club and played a major role in making Kansas City the host of the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, The Kansas City Star reported.

Coughlin had retired from competing in 2015 but remained heavily involved in figure skating as a coach and TV commentator, working closely with U.S. Figure Skating, according to USA Today. He was also a former chair of the International Skating Union’s Athletes Commission.

Coughlin’s burgeoning career was recently shrouded in controversy after the U.S. Center for SafeSport placed a temporary restriction on his eligibility to be involved figure skating on Dec. 17, USA Today first reported. SafeSport opened in March 2017 to monitor and investigate all reports of abuse, including bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, in all Olympic sports.

Details of the allegations have not been made public as Coughlin’s case with SafeSport is still pending.

In an email on Jan. 7, Coughlin told USA Today that allegations made against him were “unfounded,” but said he could not speak publicly about them because the case remained open with SafeSport.

“While I wish I could speak freely about the unfounded allegations levied against me, the SafeSport rules prevent me from doing so since the case remains pending,” Coughlin wrote. “I note only that the SafeSport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by SafeSport or that there is any merit to the allegation.”

On Thursday, one day before Coughlin was found dead, SafeSport and U.S. Figure Skating elevated their restriction on him to a temporary suspension, which banned Coughlin from any involvement with the sport or the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In a tweet, U.S. Figure Skating officials offered their condolences to the family and said they would not be making any further comment until a later time.

On Saturday, Johnny Weir, a two-time Olympic figure skater, said that Coughlin’s “kindness is something I’ll never forget and his light will be missed.” 

Dalilah Sappenfield, Coughlin’s former coach, mourned the figure skater’s death in a Facebook post. She described him as a “big loving teddy bear” and “one of the good guys.”

“It was so very difficult for him and all those who loved him to see his name and reputation being dragged through the mud these past few weeks, without any due process,” Sappenfield wrote.

“It was so very sad and tragic for me to see his life turned upside down in a matter of weeks, to the point where he felt alone, lost, and desperate that he no longer had it in him to fight.”

Randy Gardner, a two-time Olympic figure skater and a U.S. pairs champion, told CNN on Saturday that Coughlin’s death was “tragic any way you look at it.”

“With the allegations still unknown, we have yet to know the pressure he may have been under,” Gardner said. “I hate to hear of this as we’re also trying to protect the athletes in our sport.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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