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Judge won't rule until Tuesday on Nardiello's reinstatement plea

| Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. -- A New York Supreme Court judge will not decide until at least today whether to grant embattled U.S. skeleton coach Tim Nardiello's request to have his suspension temporarily overturned, a delay that hurts his chance of joining the national team at a World Cup race this weekend.

Essex County Supreme Court Judge James Dawson listened to 75 minutes of arguments in open court on Monday, and said he needed time before making a decision, which attorneys said was likely to come by e-mail and fax today.

Nardiello has been suspended since Dec. 31 after two allegations of sexual harassment were filed with the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. The national skeleton team competes in a World Cup event in Germany this weekend, and Nardiello hoped to travel there today.

Nardiello and his attorney, James Brooks, left the court without commenting. But the delay frustrated USBSF president Jim Shea Sr., who said he was hoping the hearing would result in a quick resolution.

"I want to see this thing go forward," Shea said. "I don't think it's fair to Tim. I don't think it's fair to the athletes."

The USBSF told Dawson it believes the court does not have jurisdiction in the matter, and is offering Nardiello an expedited hearing or the opportunity for binding arbitration. But USBSF legal counsel Dan Goodwin said the earliest a hearing could happen is Thursday -- the day the World Cup opens in Germany.

And this weekend's competition is a critical one for the U.S. It will determine whether the Americans have one or two women's sleds at the Turin Olympics next month.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these athletes and this coach to see if all their work from the last four years is going to result in (Olympic) medals," Brooks said during the hearing.

Two harassment allegations prompted the USBSF to suspend Nardiello, who contends that neither is valid because they were not sworn to under oath or meet other criteria laid out in the federation's bylaws.

But attorneys for the federation said that argument was irrelevant.

"A claim of harassment in any form ... has to be addressed, has to be taken seriously," said Alan Howard, an attorney for the USBSF.

The first allegation came from Marsha Gale, the mother of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Tristan Gale. She claimed Nardiello made sexually inappropriate comments to her daughter, and that his conduct was unprofessional.

Since that account was not a firsthand claim of harassment, the USBSF kept Nardiello in his job. Then, when slider Felicia Canfield came forward and said Nardiello tried to touch her, kiss her and made lewd statements to her and to other female sliders, the USBSF reopened an investigation and put him on leave.

Canfield, the wife of board member Brady Canfield and one of the first people Nardiello coached when he joined the skeleton program four years ago, also said Nardiello told sliders that the only time he wanted to see their legs spread on their sleds was when he was "between them." Skeleton sliders try to keep their legs together when racing to reduce wind drag and therefore post a faster time.

Nardiello said he made a similar comment three seasons ago, insisting it was without any sexual connotations and referred only to on-ice technique. He was verbally reprimanded by the USBSF, and says he has not made similar analogies since.

He dismisses the harassment claims as "innuendo and utterly false statements," saying they mainly reprise mistakes he made long ago and come from those who had an agenda against him because of their exclusion from Olympic consideration this season.

Neither Canfield nor Gale will compete at the Turin Games.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee is continuing its investigation into Nardiello's conduct and plans to interview him and others this week.

The USOC has final say on which coaches and athletes compose its delegation to the Turin Games, no matter whom is nominated by the individual sport federations. And however Dawson rules, it won't necessarily mean that Nardiello will or will not coach American sliders at the Olympics.

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