Swimmer Ariana Kukors reveals details about alleged abuse by former Team USA coach

Swimmer Ariana Kukors on alleged sexual abuse
Swimmer Ariana Kukors on alleged sexual abuse... 07:54

An Olympic swimmer is speaking out about alleged abuse she suffered from a former Team USA coach. Ariana Kukors told police former coach Sean Hutchison sexually abused her and took thousands of nude photos of her while she was a minor.

In an essay published Friday on her website, she alleges Hutchison groomed and manipulated her from age 13. She said the abusive relationship spanned nearly a decade.

Homeland Security Special Agents searched Hutchison's home in Seattle. They opened an investigation with Washington State authorities, but he has not been charged with a crime.

The former Olympic coach recently stepped down as CEO of King Aquatic Club after Kukors went public.

In a statement he writes:

"I absolutely deny having any sexual or romantic relationship with her before she was old enough to legally make those decisions for herself. Prior to that time I did nothing to 'groom' her."

Appearing on "CBS This Morning," Kukors said she never imagined she would be sharing her story of abuse. When asked why now, she replied, "I never realized until a few weeks ago how important being open and speaking my truth was [to] my healing process, and it really has been a journey in so many ways.

Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors, who alleges abuse spanning a decade by a former Team USA coach. CBS News

"I began therapy in October because I had reached a new low point and I realized that while I have an amazing husband and amazing life and amazing support system, I hadn't fully faced what had happened to me …

"Writing what I wrote on Friday and publishing it was a huge step in my healing process -- being able to put words to what happened to me -- and I don't think I realized until I published it Friday just how important that was, to spread that message. But not only for myself, to be able to finally stand up and speak my truth and say what happened to me, but the outpouring of messages that I've received the last few days have been so impactful."

She said that the abuse began when Hutchison began coaching her when she was 13. "I would say the grooming began immediately. There's so many definitions of what grooming is. How I understand it is the process that a predator takes to first psychologically take control over you, and then perhaps it turns into a physical relationship."

"How did he do that?" asked co-host Norah O'Donnell.

"In many ways," Kukors said. "Every single day we had to shake his hand. And it seems like a simple, nice gesture, but it's getting contact with that person, shaking their hand and looking in their eyes. Asking about things not only from your swimming career, but what's life like with your family? What are you doing at school? What are you doing this weekend? It's creating this relationship where you rely on this person for everything and you go to him for everything. And so as he guided me through this relationship of manipulation and control. He fully had control over me and prepared me for each step."

Los Angeles Grand Prix Swimming
Ariana Kukors swims the Women's 400 meter individual medley at the Los Angeles Grand Prix of swimming, July 9, 2010, in Los Angeles. Mark J. Terrill/AP

She said the individual nature of the sport meant that she spent much time alone with her coach. "So when there were private meetings going on behind a closed hotel room door, you know, someone might look at that and think, 'Oh, well, they're just discussing race tactics or strategy or how to get better.' That is inappropriate, and those kinds of conversations should not be taking place behind closed doors."

Hutchison allegedly took thousands of nude photos of Kukors. She admitted that she shared some with him, but that he took pictures of her in the locker room beginning when she was a minor. "And those pictures went on over a decade," she said.

When asked about the process of "grooming," Kukors said, "I think one of the hardest pieces maybe for someone to understand is how this took place for so long, this process of gaining control over somebody. … The conversation that I'm so hoping to have is what happens when there's a person that your parents see as a voice of authority that they fully trust, that your family trusts, that your community is praising -- what happens when that person abuses that power and takes advantage of you? That's an important conversation and dialogue that I hope that we can have."

The message she would like to share with young women  and girls who may have experienced, or are experiencing, something similar is, "It doesn't matter what your  abuse is. There are some people who sent messages who said, 'Oh, my story is not as bad.' There's no such thing as bad or good or less bad. If you are being abused, if somebody is taking advantage of you, I want you to know that no matter how you choose to find your voice, you will be heard.

China World Swimming Championships
China's Ye Shiwen, center, shows her gold medal with Australia's Alicia Coutts, left, silver, and American Ariana Kukors, bronze, on the podium after the women's 200m Individual Medley event at the FINA Swimming World Championships in Shanghai, China, July 25, 2011. Eugene Hoshiko/AP

"There are so many amazing things that are happening in this world today that are open and receptive to these conversations. I want these people to know that they are amazing, that they don't have to rely on these predators, these people who take advantage of young people and abuse a relationship so horrifically. …

"I'm not here to necessarily share my story. What I'm here is to prevent this from happening to the next person who is trying to chase their dreams, who's trying to show up as their best self every single day. Because you don't have to rely on a man, another human being, who wants to take responsibility for your success, who wants to be there every step of the way. And one of the biggest, biggest things that these predators do is they isolate you. They single you out. The things he told me constantly were, 'You're the most impressive thing I've ever met. I see things in you that your sisters don't see, that your parents don't see in you.' And because of that isolation, they put you on a pedestal, and they put you there so nobody can help you.

"And I want people to know that you don't have to hear those words to be amazing and be great and show up as your best self every single day."

To watch the complete interview click on the video player above. 

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.