Speedskater Bridie Farrell, "Molested" by Olympian Andy Gabel, Says N.Y. Law "Doesn't Protect Children"
By Michael O’keeffe
New York Daily News
March 29, 2016
|“The law in New York is flat-out insulting,” said Bridie Farrell, now a 34-year-old New York City resident. “It protects the predator, it doesn’t protect children.”|
Andy Gabel had already won dozens of medals in international speed skating competitions, including a silver at the 1994 Olympics, when he moved to upstate Saratoga Springs to prepare for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Bridie Farrell was a star-struck 15-year-old with Olympic aspirations when Gabel arrived in her hometown — and she was thrilled when one of speed skating’s biggest stars took her under his wing.
But Farrell says that what began as a series of generous acts by Gabel — picking Farrell up at 5 a.m. every day for practice, offering her advice on such things as how to properly align her skates — culminated in an uncomfortable encounter on a dead-end street. Gabel, seated beside her in his parked car, asked Farrell if he could kiss her, she says.
She says the speed skating star, then in his 30s, repeatedly molested her in 1997 and 1998, sexual abuse that would leave her feeling lost and depressed years later.
When Farrell finally went public about the abuse in 2013, she says U.S. speed skating officials said there was nothing they could do and told her she should file a report with authorities in New York State. But Farrell was unable to pursue criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit against Gabel because New York’s statute of limitations bars victims from proceeding with cases after their 23rd birthday.
“The law in New York is flat-out insulting,” said Farrell, now a 34-year-old New York City resident. “It protects the predator, it doesn’t protect children.”
Farrell supports Queens Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s Child Victims Act, a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations and open up a one-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file civil suits.
“The Child Victims Act is important because there is a self-admitted child molester walking the streets of Las Vegas and there is nothing stopping him from doing this to another child,” Farrell said, referring to Gabel.
A U.S. speed skating rep declined to comment for this story. Gabel’s attorney Donald Campbell did not return calls. In a 2013 statement to the Chicago Tribune, responding to a report about Farrell’s claims, Gabel acknowledged he had a “brief, inappropriate relationship” with a female teammate. “It did not include sex, however. I know what happened was wrong, and I make no excuses for my behavior,” Gabel said.
|Andy Gabel (c.) became U.S. Speedskating’s president and was a member of its board of directors. He was inducted into the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame in 2003.|
Farrell said they did not have intercourse, but the Olympian did penetrate her with his fingers and placed her hands on his genitals. Gabel repeatedly told her not to tell anyone about their liaisons, she said, and he became increasingly controlling as the abuse continued. The abuse ended when Gabel qualified for the 1998 Olympic team and left Saratoga Springs for good, she says. Farrell said it never occurred to her to report Gabel to the police. Gabel was not just a legendary competitor — he was a person who wielded tremendous clout in the small, insular world of American speed skating.
He later became U.S. Speedskating’s president and was a member of its board of directors. He was inducted into the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame in 2003.
“I didn’t think anybody would believe me,” Farrell said.
Farrell says New York’s statute of limitations also prevents her from taking legal action against U.S. Speed Skating even though the organization may have known that Gabel targeted young athletes.
A boxing coach at an Olympic training center at Northern Michigan University reportedly raised suspicions about Gabel’s relationship with young girls. University officials investigated but determined the allegations could not be substantiated.
Speed skater Nikki Meyer, meanwhile, later said Gabel had raped her in 1991 when she was 15 and pressured her into having a sexual relationship that lasted for years.
|Farrell was unable to pursue criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit against Andy Gabel because of New York’s statute of limitations.|
Experts say sports provide unique opportunities for child predators. Athletes and coaches travel, dress and shower together. Coaches and sports officials have enormous power; they determine if talented athletes receive scholarships or placement on elite teams. Elite athletes are taught they have to sacrifice in the pursuit of greatness. Sexual abuse, like predawn practices or injuries, became just another thing for Farrell to endure.
She says she didn’t realize how much damage the relationship with Gabel had caused until she had to write about a life-changing experience for a human development class at Cornell University. Her professor urged her to seek counseling. But because Farrell was 26 when she wrote that paper, New York’s statute of limitations prevented her from pursuing criminal charges or civil litigation.
“There is nothing I can do,” says Farrell, who graduated from Cornell in 2008. “But people like Andy should not be on the street.”