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Former Wellesley College and Olympic running coach barred after sexual misconduct investigation

John Babington, 77, of Ashland and now retired, coached numerous world-class runners, beginning when they were teenagers but he has been banned from Olympic-related sports because of sexual misconduct.Handout

John Babington, one of the most influential women’s running coaches in Greater Boston history, was ruled permanently ineligible Thursday from any involvement in Olympic-related sports for sexual misconduct after a three-year investigation by the US Center for SafeSport.

[ New: Famed Olympic runner Lynn Jennings chases down John Babington, the renowned coach who abused her as a teen ]

SafeSport concluded that Babington engaged in sexual misconduct with two minor girls he was coaching, and unwanted physical misconduct with a female collegiate athlete he coached, with the incidents allegedly occurring from the mid-1970s to the 1990s, according to a disciplinary database maintained by the organization and interviews by the Globe.

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Babington, 77, of Ashland and now retired, coached numerous world-class runners, beginning when they were teenagers. He has until Jan. 11 to request an arbitration hearing on SafeSport’s disciplinary action.

In a phone interview, Babington said he took issue with one claimant’s version of their encounters and considered the permanent ban against him unnecessary, but he otherwise did not contest the findings.

“In the course of the SafeSport proceedings, I acknowledged some past conduct and clearly expressed regret or remorse that the conduct occurred,” Babington said. “But I don’t think the past conduct decades ago warrants permanent exclusion from participating in the Olympic movement.”

SafeSport officials do not comment on pending disciplinary cases. The organization was authorized by Congress in 2017 to investigate sexual misconduct in US Olympic sports.

The women Babington is accused of sexually molesting as minors were not identified by SafeSport or him. The Globe does not identify survivors of sexual misconduct unless they give consent.

One of the women who reported Babington’s alleged abuse to SafeSport indicated in an interview that she was appalled both by his claim of remorse and his opposition to the disciplinary measure.

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“Since the age of 15, I have carried the burden and the secret of what John Babington did to me,” she said. “I know I’m not the only one. There were others. At no time since I was 15 years old has he spoken to me, apologized to me, or acknowledged to me what he did.”

Babington began coaching in Greater Boston’s groundbreaking women’s Liberty Athletic Club in the mid-1970s. He served as an assistant coach of Harvard University’s women’s track and field team in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, as head coach of the US national team at the 1990 World Cross Country Championships, as an assistant coach of the US track and field team for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and as head coach of Wellesley College’s cross-country and track and field teams from 1987 until he retired in 2013.

A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Law School, Babington voluntarily submitted to an interview with a SafeSport investigator in 2021. He declined to discuss details of the interview or the accusations.

“I have acknowledged some merit in some of the allegations in this case and have expressed my regrets that anything occurred,” he said in the interview.

Babington said he has “atoned” for the alleged misconduct by maintaining an “exemplary coaching record” in recent decades.

He asserted that SafeSport’s ban is unnecessary because he is not actively coaching and is committed to not engaging in any improper behavior.

“Based on my spotless record and my accomplishments as a coach” since the most recent alleged misconduct, Babington said, “I think it’s unquestionable that there has been no basis at any time for considering me an ongoing threat.”

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Babington gained national renown in the running community in the 1970s in large measure by coaching Lynn Jennings, then a young phenom at the Bromfield School who after dominating competition in Massachusetts won three consecutive world cross-country championships, set a world indoor record in the 5,000 meters, and won a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Babington said he also coached Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic gold medalist in 1984, though mostly as an informal adviser. Benoit Samuelson was one of the only veteran running greats who participated in a video tribute to Babington when he retired from Wellesley.

Among the other girls and young women Babington said he coached for Liberty were Judi St. Hilaire, who became a world-class Olympian distance runner, and Darlene Beckford, a star at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School who at Harvard became the first Ivy League woman to win a national collegiate track championship. She also set a national indoor record in the mile.

In Babington’s 26 years at Wellesley, where he also worked for many years in the business administration, his cross-country teams won five New England Women’s and Men’s Conference championships, and he was voted a conference coach of the year seven times.

But, he said, Wellesley and the Liberty Athletic Club severed ties with him during the course of SafeSport’s investigation.

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“I’ve already lost a lot of connections I had in the sport as a result of this,” he said. “I don’t want to say I’ve been punished, but I have had consequences.”

But, the women Babington allegedly molested as minors said they have suffered for much of their lives because of him.


Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.