USA Artistic Swimming Olympic Coach Suspended Amid Allegations of Abuse For Over A Decade

Allegations of athlete abuse have resulted in the suspension of Hiea-Yoon Kang, the head coach of the La Mirada Aquabelles and a member of the USA Artistic Swimming (USAAS) staff for the 2024 Olympic Games.

Former members of the U.S. National Team, La Mirada club swimmers and their parents allege in interviews and complaints to the U.S. Center for SafeSport that Kang has routinely physically, verbally and emotionally abused athletes as young as nine for more than a decade, according to The Orange County Register.

The complaints include Kang repeatedly bullying, laughing at, or ignoring swimmers who were sobbing or screaming in pain, and at least one instance where she dislocated an athlete’s toe during stretching drills, The OC Register reports.

There are reportedly 14 current and former members of the Aquabelles, including former National Team members, who alleged Kang’s pattern of abuse in interviews, along with formal complaints filed with SafeSport and other investigative documents obtained by The OC Register.

Up to 18 swimmers have filed abuse complaints with SafeSport since 2022.

Kang, 41, has built the Aquabelles into a prestigious team that has been a pipeline of sorts for the U.S. National Team, having started the program in 2006 in Long Beach before relocating to La Mirada a year later.

After receiving the USAAS Age Group Developmental Coach of the Year award in 2008, Kang was named the U.S. Junior National Team head coach in 2011 and has been on national staffs ever since.

This past January, she was named assistant coach for the U.S. Senior National Team in preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games.

“It’s terrible,” an anonymous former National Team member told The OC Register. “I don’t know how she’s allowed to continue to coach on the highest level of the sport. “This has been going on for so long. This is not a secret.”

Kang earned the National Team role for Paris 16 months after USA Artistic Swimming CEO Adam Andrasko reportedly received complaints alleging “psychological and emotional misconduct and abuse” by Kang, along with forcing athletes to compete and practice injured, body shaming young athletes and committing child labor abuse by punishing athletes as young as 11 by making them teach swimming to monitor children aged 5-7 for two hours per day while otherwise unsupervised by a lifeguard, according to USAAS documents.

One parent alleged that their 11-year-old daughter witnessed a small child nearly drown while being taught by a member of the Aquabelles.

Kang was initially suspended in May as a U.S. National Team coach, The OC Register reports, after Andrasko was notified of “much more concerning” allegations than he had 16 months earlier.

“Still these are just allegations,” Andrasko said. “This is not an admission of Coach Kang’s guilt. But at the end of the day, my responsibility is to the (safety) of the athlete.”

Kang was named to the U.S. National Team for the 2024 World Championships despite Andrasko and other USAAS officials being aware that Kang had been under investigation by SafeSport for over a year.

Andrasko disputed Kang’s appointment as a promotion and referred to it as a contract extension.

As many as 18 swimmers and parents detailed more than 80 specific allegations against Kang over 13 years including physical, verbal and emotional abuse, bullying, body shaming, forcing athletes to compete or train while injured or suffering from medical issues that required surgery, and child labor and endangerment abuses, according to SafeSport documents obtained by The OC Register.

“Hiea Yoon Kang’s coaching has resulted in physical and mental suffering for myself and many others,” a swimmer who recently competed for the Aquabelles wrote in a complaint.

The OC Register‘s report details a specific instance where, on Kang’s 29th birthday in 2011, the team was to do a daunting set where Kang  put athlete safety at risk.

“She got us in the water and announced that we would be celebrating by doing 29 50s in the lap lane timed on 29 seconds for the 50 yards,” said Miranda Marquez, a former Aquabelles member who had been rushed to hospital to deal with a kidney stone just days earlier.

“One way would be butterfly and the way back would be an underwater lap. No breathing.

“We had to start the 29 (sprints) over if we took a breath. Coach Kang told us that blacking out was not an excuse not to finish the drills and that we would have to finish them before she allowed any medical attention. She even remarked that she didn’t want us passing out and messing it up for everyone else by making our teammates rescue us and make us all start from the top.”

After the 19th 50, Marquez had to rush to the bathroom where Kang found her “collapsed on the bathroom floor vomiting and sobbing.”

After asking her to call her parents and take her to the emergency room, Kang told Marquez: ‘You know everyone has to start over because of you now, right?’

Marquez’s parents eventually arrived after Kang dismissed the severity of her medical event.

“She said, ‘This is not what I wanted for my birthday,’” Marquez said. “‘How dare you do this on my birthday?’”

Elisa Marquez, Miranda’s mother, said: “Miranda was throwing up from the pain and (Kang) still didn’t believe her. It was just awful. No empathy, nothing, nothing. It was like it was an inconvenience that Miranda was in pain and throwing up.”

Miranda Marquez said it’s not uncommon for synchro coaches to be abusive—Canada’s former National Team head coach Gabor Szauder was removed from his role for abuse last year—but “Kang is different.”

“Mostly synchro coaches are psychologically abusive,” she said. “That’s kind of their whole deal.

“She is crueler (than other coaches) and was cruel right off the bat,” Marquez said, detailing when she joined the Aquabelles from the Riverside Aquattes team.

“Didn’t want to know the first thing about us. And the few questions that she did ask were what our goals were and I remember the conversation that we had when me and my teammates first came from Riverside, basically telling her we wanted to be on the national team. We wanted to be the national team. We wanted to reach the highest levels and eventually go to the Olympics and she replied something to the effect like, ‘Alright, that means I’m going to be really hard on you.’ And none of us were strangers to working hard. We were high-level athletes who pushed ourselves to the point of illness, past the point of what we should be doing.

“I already competed when I was not medically cleared by nine different neurologists because I had suffered a concussion in the pool and I competed anyway. I bring this up because it was not a lack of drive and determination and we were not strangers to any of this.

“But what Kang was like was so beyond the pale.”

The lengthy report from The OC Register details numerous instances of Kang’s abuse and the aftermath, including:

  • Swimmers and parents living in fear of her temper
  • Kang would just leave practice when she was angry at times, and these swimmers wouldn’t know if they should get out of the water or wait for her to return, unsure of what to do in fear of the repercussions
  • Regular physical abuse including up to 40 hours of training per week, training while recovering from surgeries and injury, being subjected to hypoxic training that put them at risk of losing consciousness, and having Kang dislocate toes and hyperextended swimmer’s knees during drills
  • Routinely verbally abusing athletes, including calling them “dumb,” “stupid,” or “losers”
  • Regular body shaming, making demeaning comments about weight, appearances, physique and diet
  • One parent said: “My daughter was even scared to eat her dinner a few times on the way home in the car because she thought Kang was driving next to us.”
  • No swimmers were exempt, but Kang would target certain swimmers for regular bullying and degrading comments
  • Swimmers quit the sport with physical and emotional scars from their time training under her

As of May 21, Kang does not appear in the SafeSport database.

You can read the full report from The OC Register here.

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22 days ago

SafeSport is a joke.

David Lee
28 days ago

Kang is a great coach!

Although in this article describing so many bad things or bad mouth about her.
I think every coach in every sport has his/her training styles. The sport team has the governing body which hires the coach. All these complaints can be channeled through the parents and coach communication and can be brought to coach’s attention. The board should manager the team effectively and especially regarding the complaints in this article. Even the team governing body can fire the coach if the coach not qualified!

Also if any of these complaints made through to the coach or the team governing body timely, the situation won’t last a decade, for the swimmers and their families,… Read more »

28 days ago

It’s important to consider the full context before passing judgment on Kang. Many of the former swimmers who are now complaining left the team. Could it be because they didn’t meet the high standards required for competitions or testing levels? Could it be due to not adhering to team rules? No one can or would force anyone to stay on the team; participation in all clubs was always voluntary. It’s curious that these complaints are surfacing now, coinciding with Kang’s rise to national prominence. This timing raises questions about the motives behind these allegations. When evaluated objectively, the situation doesn’t add up, and it seems unfair to tarnish Kang’s reputation based on these late and potentially self-serving accusations. It wouldn’t… Read more »

29 days ago

She seems delightful.

29 days ago

Our National team basically has come from her program..nice to know that the parents knew exactly what to expect. But heck, a chance at the Nationals? Sign me up! Oops, didn’t quite work out…what price are you willing to pay to get to the top? I found the article salacious, ridiculous in parts, and believable in other parts.
I think I’ll stick with AI coaches..programmed to be exactly what I need .

SuperSwimmer 2000
29 days ago

“Miranda Marquez said it’s not uncommon for synchro coaches to be abusive—but “ ‘Kang is different.’”

“‘Mostly synchro coaches are psychologically abusive,’ she said. “That’s kind of their whole deal.

“‘She is crueler (than other coaches) and was cruel right off the bat,’ Marquez said, detailing when she joined the Aquabelles from the Riverside Aquattes team.”

Why would you let your kid participate in a sport like this, where abuse seems a given part of the culture? And she recognized it was worse with this coach, “right off the bat.” (And that quote won’t help the layer’s case in court — he’s gotta be livid about that). Guess what sport my daughter won’t be doing.

29 days ago

So she expected synchro kids to do 29x50s @:29 😭😭

Coach Cwik
Reply to  DistanceSwimmer
29 days ago

Olympic Trial swimmers could easily do this yards. Meters, maybe a straight swim, shaved, tapered and suited at the Olympics and be under World Record Pace. More likely 29 x 25 x :29 with one or none breaths. As for the language, “YOU CAN’T COACH THE WAY THEY COACHED IN THE 60’S AND 70’S, it doesn’t work with today’s kids. But, you can challenge them and get them to do things in practice, that Brian Goodell only dreamed about.

Reply to  Coach Cwik
29 days ago

Yeah Olympic Trials swimmers aren’t synchro swimmers, so even if they could do this set in yards “easily,” it’s unreasonable to expect synchro swimmers to do so. I was a scholarship swimmer at a Power 5 conference school, and I’m not sure I would be able to do this at my peak. I was a distance swimmer, but still.

Coach Cwik
Reply to  DMSWIM
29 days ago

Please read the entire statement. More likely 29 x 25 x 29 with one or none breaths. So yes, it would be unreasonable to expect synchro swimmers to do 29 x 50 x 29.

Gulf Coach
Reply to  Coach Cwik
29 days ago

This was your FIRST sentence:

“ Olympic Trial swimmers could easily do this yards.”

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Coach Cwik
29 days ago

That’s your take?

29 days ago

It was a great report and not too surprised. I have been unable to find Kang (or any reported USAAS reports) in the SafeSports database. Am I just looking at the wrong filters, perhaps? How can I find these reports for other states for the USAAS sport?

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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