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Sexual harassment allegations on U.S. Biathlon team prompt SafeSport investigation, sanctions

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The U.S. Biathlon community has been shaken by revelations of sexual harassment endured by national champion Joanne Reid at the hands of ski-wax technician Petr “Gara” Garabik during her years on the World Cup circuit.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport conducted an 18-month investigation, uncovering a disturbing pattern of harassment, leading to Garabik’s suspension for six months and probation until December 2024.

Reid’s teammate, Deedra Irwin, exposed what she called a “culture of harassment and misogyny” to her military superiors, prompting a call for action. The investigation revealed that Garabik engaged in repeated sexual harassment and unwanted contact with Reid, exploiting the power dynamic within the team, as wax technicians play a crucial role in preparing skis for the demanding biathlon events.

Despite Reid’s complaints to U.S. Biathlon officials since 2019, the case only reached SafeSport in April 2021. Confidential reports from SafeSport indicated that the nature of the sport made it difficult for athletes to confront the harasser, fearing it could impact their performance. This delay in reporting reflects systemic flaws reminiscent of the Larry Nassar scandal in USA Gymnastics.

Garabik’s actions were allegedly well-known within the team, with new female members being warned about him. Reid refrained from reporting earlier due to fears of ski-wax technicians quitting and jeopardizing the team. Garabik dismissed the allegations as “complete nonsense” but admitted to sexual comments during the investigation.

The aftermath of the investigation saw U.S. Biathlon retroactively changing World Cup team pre-qualification criteria, affecting Reid adversely. She perceived this as retaliation for bringing attention to the organization’s handling of the issue, leading her to decline a spot on the national team.

U.S. Biathlon CEO Jack Gierhart denied retaliation claims, stating that the rule change was part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to set standards and ensure athlete safety. The SafeSport investigation, according to Gierhart, found no violations of codes or protocols by U.S. Biathlon.

Reid’s courageous decision to share her story publicly on social media in November 2023 garnered widespread support. Despite the challenges, she emphasized the importance of shedding light on the issue for the safety of women athletes in biathlon. SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colón acknowledged the difficulties victims face during investigations, emphasizing the necessity of accountability for cultural change.

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