Aja Evans, who won an Olympic bronze medal for the United States in the two-woman bobsleigh at the 2014 Sochi Games, filed a lawsuit in New York state court on Wednesday, alleging she was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions over the course of a decade by a chiropractor on Team USA’s medical staff.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are Dr Jonathan Wilhelm, a chiropractor with offices in Montana; his employer Pro Chiropractic, the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation; and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
ESPN was first to report the complaint, which the Chicago native filed through New York’s Adult Survivors Act, the 2022 amendment to state law that expanded the previous statute of limitations for alleged victims of sexual offenses and allowed for alleged abusers, as well as businesses and institutions that enabled the conduct by ignoring or encouraging an environment that allowed the assaults to occur, to be held financially liable. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
“The repeated molestation and sexual assault I suffered at the hands of John Wilhelm left me physically and emotionally damaged, to the point where I experience chronic anxiety and fell out of love with the sport of bobsledding,” Evans said in a statement on Thursday.
The complaint stated that Evans first met Wilhelm in 2012, seeing him as a patient for a hip injury. During that initial session, Wilhelm asked her inappropriate questions about her personal life and “touched and groped Ms Evans’ genitals and body in contravention of any applicable medical standards”.
Evans, who was named as an alternate for the USA bobsled team at last year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, alleged similar episodes of misconduct between 2012 and 2022, including a time when she awoke in the hospital to Wilhelm touching her after a December 2021 training accident in Germany. Additionally, Wilhelm is alleged to have recorded video of Evans and her teammates in various states of undress during treatment sessions and prior to competition at the USOPC training facility in Lake Placid, New York.
The lawsuit states that complaints by Evans and her teammates to USA Bobsled and Skeleton over Wilhelm’s behavior were disregarded.
“Rather than being protected, believed, and taken seriously, Ms Evans was subjected to investigation and degradation by the USOPC and USA Bobsled governing bodies,” the complaint stated.
Wilhelm’s attorney Ryan Stevens said that his client “wholeheartedly denies these baseless allegations” in a statement to ESPN.
“At no point did Dr Wilhelm commit these heinous and disgusting acts that Ms Evans now alleges started over a decade ago,” he said in the statement. “Dr Wilhelm has reputably served and protected professional athletes all over the world. Dr Wilhelm looks forward to vetting these unfounded claims and will pursue all legal avenues to protect his professional reputation.”
Evans, who placed fifth at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang following her Sochi bronze, was suspended from competition for two years after not submitting a drug-testing sample in 2022, which the lawsuit claimed she declined to contest due to “exhaustion over the repeated abuse”.
Wilhelm has continued to treat Olympic athletes, the lawsuit stated, and noted that the USOPC’s and USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s protection and enabling of Wilhelm draws comparisons to the disgraced former Olympic physician Larry Nassar.
“The mishandling of the Nassar abuse made clear that these bodies value performance over protection, and medals over mental health and well-being of individual athletes,” the lawsuit stated.
In a statement provided to the Guardian, Evans’ attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel decried her client’s “abhorrent and persistent sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of Mr Wilhelm, who was sheltered and enabled by USA Bobsledding and the USOPC’s culture of silence”.
“Unfortunately, her experience is all too common and is in many ways similar to the widespread sexual abuse USA gymnasts faced by Larry Nassar,” she said in the statement. “While nothing can erase the trauma Aja suffered, we are committed to bringing both Mr Wilhelm and the national organizations which enabled his predation to justice.”