Lawsuit Accuses Former Kentucky Swim Coach Lars Jorgensen of Rape, Claims School Was Complicit

by Riley Overend 164

April 13th, 2024 News

Two former University of Kentucky swimmers filed a lawsuit on Friday alleging that the athletic department was complicit in allowing ex-head coach Lars Jorgensen “to foster a toxic, sexually hostile environment within the swim program and to prey on, sexually harass, and commit horrific sexual assaults and violent rapes against young female coaches and collegiate athletes who were reliant on him.”

The 53-year-old Jorgensen resigned last summer amid an investigation after a decade in Lexington, receiving a $75,000 settlement and foregoing the rest of the $402,500 left on his contract through the 2024-25 season. He appeared in SafeSport’s disciplinary database in November for unspecified allegations of misconduct. Details of those allegations surfaced Friday in an article by The Athletic.

The first alleged assault dates back to December of 2013, at a team Christmas party that Jorgensen hosted at his house. A former swim team staffer told The Athletic that Jorgensen forced her into his bedroom and raped her. He is accused of continuing to abuse the staffer over the next two years and telling her that nobody would believe her if she told anyone. She ultimately left in 2016 for a job at a “less prominent program.”

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Briggs Alexander, a former team captain and an assistant coach with the Wildcats. The complaint claims that Jorgensen “groomed” Alexander during her time on the women’s team from 2014-18.

“Jorgensen isolated Alexander, sought to gain her trust, strove to control every facet of her life, and repeatedly made sexualized comments in an attempt to desensitize sexual topics,” says the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

In December of 2019, after the team’s annual Christmas party at Jorgensen’s house, Alexander alleges that Jorgensen forced her into his bedroom, pinned her down by the wrists, and raped her. She also described three more sexual assaults while working as a volunteer assistant coach (2019-20) and assistant coach (2020-22) and a fourth that allegedly occurred in April of 2023, almost a year after resigning in May of 2022.

Alexander now identifies as male, but the lawsuit uses gender pronouns that align with his transition timeline so readers can understand “who I was in the moment when I was being abused.”

Former Kentucky swim coach Gary Conelly and current athletic director Mitch Barnhart are also named as defendants in the lawsuit along with Jorgensen and the university for their “deliberate indifference.” Kentucky’s Title IX office has reportedly known since 2019 about accusations that Jorgensen had been in a relationship with one of his swimmers at Toledo and sexually assaulted a staff member at Kentucky. In the lawsuit, former members of the Wildcats program say they were “vigorously discouraged” by a Title IX officer from reporting Jorgensen’s abuse.

In 2014, a former Toledo softball coach accused Jorgensen of having a long-term romance with a swimmer, hiring her as an assistant coach, and ultimately promoting her to head coach in a Title IX lawsuit where he was one of three examples of male head coaches and administrators who “committed much more egregious offenses” without being fired. Conelly told The Athletic that he looked into that situation and said Jorgensen only started dating her after she stopped swimming.

“This is not an uncommon occurrence that there is a relationship between a coach and an ex-swimmer,” Conelly said.

Former Princeton head coach Bret Lundgaard was hired as Jorgensen’s replacement in July.

As a swimmer, Jorgensen set program records at the University of Tennessee and went on to represent the U.S. at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. He has also held the record for the Ironman World Championships for nearly two decades with a swimming split of 46:41.

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Zzz
1 day ago
rolltidings
1 month ago

I was recruited by lars jorgenson and chip kline. I saw every one of the swimmers step on the scale before diving in the water. All the swimmers were talking about their weight. While on my recruiting trip, they told me (as a 17 year old) that I needed to gain weight.

UK Swimmer
1 month ago

As a current UK swimmer who has been coached by both Lars and the new staff, I have experienced what the comments below outline, but I now know what college swimming is supposed to be like; I now know what it is like to have a healthy relationship with your coaching staff and with your sport. We really were being gaslit, not knowing how bad Lars was treating us. We were attributing our extra ‘voluntary’ practices, punishments, and verbal abuse to building and maintaining our hardworking team culture. With now having been under a supportive staff that values the swimmers as students and people (Lars would tell us to skip class or change majors so we could go to practice!),… Read more »

Alex Johnson
Reply to  UK Swimmer
1 month ago

I’m so glad that you all are happy under the new staff.

Who's Your Psychic
Reply to  UK Swimmer
1 month ago

This is so nice to read as I have a swimmer that will be there next year. So glad to hear swimmers are having a positive and appropriate college swimming experience. I’m very sorry for what you and your teammates had to go through. Sounds like only good this ahead for this team and program.

Anonymous
1 month ago

Freshly after turning 16 I was invited to an official recruiting trip to UK and was beyond excited for the opportunity. Upon arrival it was immediately an uncomfortable experience. Such a weird vibe starting from the welcome breakfast with Lars. The second day we had scheduled one on one meeting with Lars to talk individually about what UK could offer. Meetings ran long and I was told by staff that I should get in to swim and we would push back my meeting to after I was done. In the middle of my workout the coaches pulled me out, gave me a towel, and sent me into Lars’s office. As a 16 year old I thought this was weird but… Read more »

Alumni
Reply to  Anonymous
1 month ago

So thankful you noticed at such a young age the “instinct” feeling you had not to come to UK. You saved yourself from years of trauma and mental health issues. I wish I listened to that feeling along with my teammates who told me that they got a creeper feeling from him when he visited my club team. This is the exact reason why I never took part in recruiting while being at UK. I couldn’t recruit individuals to a place where I knew it wasn’t a safe environment.

DerbyContender
1 month ago

I want whatever information that lawyers to build a case against the former coach and the UK athletic department to be part of a bigger package of damning information. If it doesn’t bring down the entire athletic department administration, then maybe at least it will force a reckoning, a change, and will be noticed by other programs nationwide. If this does cause increased scrutiny and notice, perhaps we’ll see some coaches step down before the microscope is turned on them. And I say, good riddance.

It’s not strength-building when coaches create challenging or toxic environments. It’s not weakness and softness when a kind and caring support structure is created. We’re past the days of that kind of athletic program.… Read more »

LuckFars
Reply to  DerbyContender
1 month ago

Well said. It’s well past time that swimmers have to pay with their souls to compete for elite programs. Coaching that cares for the athlete has a whole person has shown to be extremely successful.

Alumni
1 month ago

I swam at UK beginning of 2017 and graduated Dec 2020. The experiences I had at UK swim were negative from the time I committed to the time I ended up being finished. I was recruited for breast and IM but ended up swimming fly, IM and distance. Lars wanted me in distance group a lot freshman year due to “being too overweight” and my family is “overweight so that’s why”. Breast stroke was my main stroke and I was told I was being primarily being recruited for that. They threw me in Monday night distance group which was the absolute worst thing swimming 10k in one practice with the boys and getting lapped multiple times. There would be times… Read more »

Brave
Reply to  Alumni
1 month ago

Wow. I believe you and wish you well. I also think people like you could help these current victims in their case for accountability. There is strength in numbers. Contact those attorneys.

AZswummer
Reply to  Alumni
1 month ago

Just wow…

David Worthington
1 month ago

Hey Ray Looze, remember when you called Lars a “gift to coaching” in support of him when this process began a few months ago? Maybe you should pick better friends 🤷🏻‍♂️. Or, maybe the creep branch doesn’t fall too far from the tree…..

Also, I believe Lars’s lawyer stated that “when the facts come out, a lot of people are going to have egg on their faces and it’s not going to be me or my client”
-Greg Anderson

Hey Greg – how those eggs taste? Poached or scrambled?

Lars 4 Prison
Reply to  David Worthington
1 month ago

Can’t make a Tomlette without breaking some Greggs

Howie
Reply to  David Worthington
1 month ago

David i’m mildly curious if the lawyer will stick around through this or bail after having read the full lawsuit? That fool made that disgusting comment long before there was any real discovery or details. Katie Strang wrote an amazing piece that put egg all over many faces –Lars, Mitch, and THE person that groomed Lars to take over the program Gary Conman Conelly.

Maddie D
1 month ago

It’s ironic that a year ago, I commented on the SwimSwam post of Lars when he first resigned, and some of the hate I got because parents heard from their children that I was the problem… I was not the problem. I was aware of the problem, and when I went to our sports administrator/associate AD, academic advisor, and compliance director, I expressed my feelings towards the coaches and the bullying from the men’s team. None of those individuals I met with really listened to me, and I was gaslit into thinking I had overreacted or that there was nothing they could do about it and maybe transferring would be a good option. Aside from this, I got to UK… Read more »

GoBirds
Reply to  Maddie D
1 month ago

While I appreciate you coming forth with your struggles, this is not about you. I was on the team for 4 years with Lars, experience worse, and yet I will not come on here and rant my story that doesn’t even come close to what these other girls went through. Show empathy for your past teammates, and stop making it about yourself.

CADWALLADER GANG
Reply to  GoBirds
1 month ago

this is such a disgusting comment. why can’t she also share her experience?! if anything by her sharing the hell she’s been through shines a light at the nastiness that has been brewing at Kentucky. you are no better than those who have gaslit and silenced her.

Maddie
Reply to  GoBirds
1 month ago

I do feel for the girls and what they experienced. Putting trust into the program and Lars as a coach and it turning into something like this is traumatizing and I pray they get the justice they deserve. Just because I didn’t have the same experience as them or you apparently, does not mean my feelings are not validated. I’m sure you may have gone through worse but are choosing not to share and that is your preference. I stayed quiet for so long and I finally have built up the confidence to share my story and I’m so sorry that my opinions offended you. I hope you are able to heal from what is hurting you.

Iambic Pentameter
Reply to  GoBirds
1 month ago

Maddie, thank you for putting your story out there. GoBirds, when you have had some therapy and are a little farther on the other side of this, I think you may see the good that posters like Maddie do by sharing their stories.

Trinity
Reply to  GoBirds
1 month ago

A big part of the lawsuit is that Lars sought to control people by controlling what they ate and affecting their perception of themselves and their bodies. Maddie’s story gives context to the ways that was done and in no way diminishes what others went through.

Momofakindswimmer
Reply to  GoBirds
1 month ago

She can have a voice in this too..quit telling victims that what happened to them “wasn’t bad enough “

This Guy
Reply to  Maddie D
1 month ago

Body fat testing was mandatory? I’ve only known of programs making it completely optional and not mandatory. The program I was a part of made a real point to make sure everyone knew they did not need to participate and was only if someone wanted additional data points. I’d say about half the team actually did the testing, and this was 20 years ago.

Momofakindswimmer
Reply to  Maddie D
1 month ago

Reach out to the lawyers representing this case. They told me they will listen to any of the athletes stories. No fee.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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