John Coughlin, figure skating champion, dies of apparent suicide after suspension

"My wonderful, strong, amazingly compassionate brother John Coughlin took his own life."

FILE - JANUARY 19, 2019: According to reports, American figure skating champion, John Coughlin, took his own life in Kansas City, Mo. on Friday night. Coughlin has recently been suspended from US figure skating. BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 11:  Caydee Denney and John Coughlin celebrate in the kiss and cry after skating in the free dance during the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on January 11, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
John Coughlin and Caydee Denney celebrate after skating in the free dance during the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 11, 2014, at TD Garden in Boston. –Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

John Coughlin, a U.S. pairs figure skating champion, died at 33 in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, one day after he had been suspended from the sport.

“My wonderful, strong, amazingly compassionate brother John Coughlin took his own life earlier today,” his sister, Angela Laune, wrote in a Facebook post Friday night.

The police in Kansas City, Coughlin’s hometown, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday, but USA Today reported that officers had been dispatched to respond to a suicide Friday night.

“I’m just saddened that he felt that this was the only option left for him,” his coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said in an interview Saturday, adding that “he was always a skater who did more than what he thought he was capable of.”


She declined to discuss the allegations that prompted Coughlin’s suspension.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, whose investigations typically involve allegations of sexual assault, placed restrictions on Coughlin in December and suspended him Thursday, temporarily prohibiting him from participating in any activities under the auspices of U.S. Figure Skating, the national governing body for the sport, or the U.S. Olympic Committee. The center had not released any findings at the time of Coughlin’s death.

The USOC created SafeSport in 2017 to investigate accusations of misconduct, taking those responsibilities away from organizations like USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and others that have been roiled by sexual-abuse allegations in recent years.

A spokeswoman for SafeSport did not answer questions about the allegations against Coughlin, saying it was the center’s policy “to not speak to matters to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of those involved, including reporting parties.”

Coughlin said in an email to USA Today this month that he wished he could talk about the “unfounded allegations” but that he could not because the case was pending.

“I note only that the SafeSport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by SafeSport or that there is any merit to the allegation,” he added.


Coughlin won the U.S. figure skating pairs title in 2011 with Caitlin Yankowskas, and again in 2012 with Caydee Denney.

He failed to qualify for the 2014 Olympics but went on to become a supporter of, and an ambassador for, figure skating, Sappenfield said. At the time of his death, Coughlin was the chairman of the athletes commission at the International Skating Union, a global federation for figure skating and speedskating. He had also worked as a coach and a television commentator.

The top U.S. skaters learned of Coughlin’s death while they were gathered in Detroit for the national championships.

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A post on Twitter from the U.S. Figure Skating account expressed shock at the news of Coughlin’s death and said: “Our heartfelt and deepest sympathies are with his father Mike, sister Angela and the rest of his family. Out of respect to the family, we will have no further comment until a later time.”