Coach accused of sexual assault testifies he kissed young gymnast on lips regularly
A former high-ranking gymnastics coach testified at his sexual assault trial Thursday that he never took naps with the gymnast levelling accusations against him nor did he spoon her in bed, though he acknowledged he kissed her on the lips every time he saw her.
Dave Brubaker, who used to be the director of the women's national gymnastics team, has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault and one count of invitation to sexual touching at his judge-alone trial in Sarnia, Ont. The charges relate to alleged incidents between 2000 and 2007.
The gymnast, who is now in her 30s, has testified that Brubaker would kiss her on the lips to say hello and goodbye starting when she was 12 years old. She said he initiated the ritual after a trip to Europe and kissed others on the cheek but kissed her on the lips.
Brubaker acknowledges he never kissed other gymnasts on the lips, only the complainant.
The woman also testified that Brubaker would pick her up from school and take her to his house, where he would occasionally spoon her in bed and tickle her belly before driving her to practice.
In court Thursday, Brubaker acknowledged that the gymnast would come over to his house between school and practice, but he said they did not take naps together.
"It never happened," he said.
He also said that while he did kiss her regularly on the lips, he did not compel her to.
"I think it was just out of habit … that she started to kiss me," he said, insisting that the kisses were innocent.
The woman has also told the trial that Brubaker occasionally touched her inappropriately during sports massages — an allegation Brubaker firmly denied.
He said he would palpate the area where her upper thigh met her pubic area, as well as the area around her breast to get at pectoral muscles, but maintained that it was all to improve her performance in the sport.
Sports massages crucial to success: expert
An expert witness who testified earlier Thursday said sports massages such as the ones administered by Brubaker were crucial to success in gymnastics.
"It's required," said Ronald Weese, a sports physiologist with a specialization in training gymnastics coaches. "You can't get [to an elite level] from here without an emphasis on the small, finer details."
Weese said the muscles in those parts of the body are extremely important for gymnasts, who use them while doing the splits or to lift themselves up. He also said it's possible for an inexperienced sports therapist to touch the wrong part of the body in these massages.
"I'm sure slips occur all the time, but the more expert you are about it the less they occur," he said.
I'm sure slips occur all the time, but the more expert you are about it the less they occur.– Ronald Weese, sports physiologist
When questioned by Crown attorney David Rows, Weese said it would be unusual for a coach to lie behind an athlete and rub her belly.
The trial has heard that in a videotaped interview with police, Brubaker apologized for "crossing the line" with the complainant, although he said he never had any sexual intent with her.
That video was allowed into evidence on Thursday. Its admissibility had been called into question when court heard that the police officer interviewing Brubaker was related to the complainant by marriage.
"It is clear this personal involvement could have an impact on the way the officer conducted the interview," Justice Deborah Austin said, adding that it wasn't clear how Brubaker's responses would have changed had he known about the relationship.
Austin said she would exercise a degree of caution in weighing the video as evidence.
Watch former gymnast Kyle Shewfelt discuss the allegations against Brubaker:
As a gymnastics coach, Olympic champion Kyle Shewfelt describes his shocked reaction to the allegations against former national team coach, as well as how these developments could spark change in the sport's culture. 4:03