Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, of France, skate during the pairs short program at the Grand Prix Finals in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Canadian figure skater Vanessa James says she's "deeply disappointed" in her former partner Morgan Cipres, and had no knowledge of abusive behaviour while the two were competing together. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

James says she was never aware of abuse allegations against former partner Cipres

James says she was never aware of abuse allegations against former partner Cipres

Canadian figure skater Vanessa James says she’s “deeply disappointed” in her former French partner Morgan Cipres, and had no knowledge of abusive behaviour while the two were competing together.

James, who competed with Cipres for France at the 2014 and ‘18 Olympics, recently came out of retirement to skate with Canada’s two-time world champion Eric Radford.

During a conference call on Thursday ahead of next week’s Skate Canada International, the 34-year-old James was asked about Cipres.

“I’m deeply disappointed that my ex-partner was engaging in that type of behaviour, it’s extremely important that we believe victims and support them. And I really commend them for their bravery,” said James, who holds Canadian citizenship.

Cipres was investigated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport after allegedly sending lewd photos of himself in 2017 to a 13-year-old female skater. The Florida state attorney’s office filed a third-degree felony charge against Cipres in December of 2020.

John Zimmerman — who coached the 13-year-old as well as James and Cipres in Florida — was also suspended by SafeSport, which investigates sexual abuse in Olympic sports.

SafeSport suspended Zimmerman in March for covering up the alleged 2017 abuse, and allegedly shaming and threatening the girl after he found out about the incident.

USA Today first reported the alleged abuse and the suspension.

Speaking publicly on the issue for the first time on Thursday, James said she hadn’t commented until now because the investigation was ongoing.

“And I have nothing to do with it. I was not aware of any of these allegations,” she said.

“Though I could have or should have supported victims of abuse, people that know me — and I hope the whole world — know I’m a good person and I condemn that type of behaviour,” she said. “I chose not to make a statement, maybe to my regret, but I hope that victims and survivors know I commend their bravery and I support them and believe them. I am sorry if my silence hurt them in any way.”

James and Cipres won the 2019 European title and captured bronze at the 2018 world championships.

USA Today reported that Zimmerman implored the girl and her parents to stay quiet because Cipres and James were in the final stages of preparation for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, where they finished fifth.

“I support survivors, I support victims, I believe them . . and anyone that knows me knows that I do not support any type of abuse,” James said.

Stories about sexual abuse in sports have been on the rise, particularly in gymnastics and figure skating.

“We’re proud of our National Safe Sport Program which helps us protect the skating community,” Skate Canada CEO Debra Armstrong said in a statement.

“The biggest component of this is education, which leads to informed prevention. We take all incidents seriously and are dedicated to providing a safe environment for every single person.”

American pairs skater John Coughlin committed suicide in 2019 the day after he received an interim suspension from the U.S. Center for SafeSport and U.S. Figure Skating for unspecified conduct.

James and Radford announced in April that they were coming out of retirement to be partners.

The 36-year-old Radford won two world titles, seven national titles, plus a bronze in pairs and gold in the team event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

James and Radford finished fifth at the Finlandia Trophy earlier this month, despite an injury to Radford during the long program. The back of James’ blade punctured Radford’s knee on the landing of a jump, their second element of the program.

Radford, who had the wound closed with medical glue, said training last week was limited by the injury, but they’ve resumed performing all of their elements in practice except their pairs spin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Figure Skating