Former Nike distance running coach, Alberto Salazar, has been declared permanently ineligible by the United States’ Center for SafeSport for sexual and emotional misconduct.
“This means that a Participant is permanently prohibited from participating, in any capacity, in any program, activity, event, or competition sponsored by, organized 5 by, or under the auspices of the USOPC [United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee], any NGB [National Governing Board], and/or any LAO [state, regional, or local club], or at a facility under their jurisdiction, according to SafeSport. “This sanction is imposed only when a Participant is found to have engaged in egregious forms of misconduct, and represents a permanent bar from participation in Olympic & Paralympic sport.”
Salazar had been on SafeSport’s temporary ban list since 2020, when an investigation into his actions was opened. The decision permanently prevents him from participating in any form of coaching; he is appealing the decision.
After emigrating from Cuba to America as a child, Salazar began his running career as an incredibly successful high school athlete and would go on to set American records in the 5000m and 10000m runs with times of 13:11.93 and 27:25.61. He is best known for his part in the 1982 Boston Marathon “Duel in the Sun,” which he was victorious in.
After retiring from competing, Salazar rose to prominence as an elite head coach and was quickly snapped up by Nike, who centered their entire competitive approach around Salazar and his team named “The Oregon Project.” The Cuban-American coached legends like Alan Webb, Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Sifan Hassan, and others, and was handed the IAAF– the world governing body for track and field— Coaching Achievement Award in 2013.
Salazar broke into the headlines for a different reason in 2015, when multiple athletes under his tutelage alleged that he had forced them to microdose testosterone and prednisone, both of which are designed to increase athletic performance but were on the IAAF’s banned substances list.
The biggest story from the 2015 scandal came from Kara Goucher, a World Championships medalist in 2007 that said Salazar pressured her to take Thyroid medication that was not prescribed to her to help her lose weight during her pregnancy. This was not a standalone incident, according to Goucher, who claimed that Salazar would freely and openly discuss her and her teammates’ bodies and weights.
Salazar did not provide an interview in response, but did state that the allegations were “based upon false assumptions and half-truths.”
Track coach Alberto Salazar has been permanently banned by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for sexual and emotional misconduct. https://t.co/oSVCjYrvlu
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) July 27, 2021
In 2019, Salazar and Dr. Jeffrey Stuart Brown, a colleague at the Oregon Project, were slapped with a four-year ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency; while no athlete that trained under Salazar tested positive for doping, the USADA confirmed that Salazar violated different testing procedures and trafficked banned substances, and the Oregon Project was shut down as a result. He then responded with a statement condemning the decision.
“Throughout this six-year investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA,” said the leader of the Oregon Project. “I have always ensured the World Anti-Doping Agency code is strictly followed.”
Alberto Salazar Banned for Life
While Salazar’s flirtation with the line surrounding doping was well known and his ban was not a surprise, given the prevalence of doping within the sport, what came next was an even larger and more damaging chapter in his legacy.
In November 2019, Mary Cain, a World Junior Championships gold medalist and highly heralded runner, partnered with the New York Times to produce an op-ed that detailed years of physical and psychological torment from Nike’s chief distance coach. Among other gut-wrenching stories and anecdotes, Cain relayed that her time with Salazar resulted in five broken bones, three years without a period, and persistent suicidal thoughts that stemmed from eating disorders she developed under pressure from her coach.
Cain was one of the best up-and-coming talents in the world as a high schooler, setting national high-school records in the outdoor 800m, 1500m, 3000m, and 5000m, and records in the indoor 1000m, 1500m, mile, and 2 mile. She is also the holder of five American junior records and two World Junior records.
“To be clear, I never encouraged her, or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight,” Salazar wrote to The Oregonian in response. “Mary at times struggled to find and maintain her ideal performance and training weight.”
The New York Times’ report prompted investigations into the Oregon Project and Nike as a whole, which revealed that the training group was “cult”-like.
Teammates of Cain’s in the Nike camp validated her claims during interviews with investigative crews, stating that womens’ bodies were free to be shamed and demeaned in whatever environment was deemed necessary by Salazar.
Cain’s testament and the following investigation played major parts in SafeSport’s decision to ban Salazar from Track & Field for life— although many of his former athletes will be competing in the Tokyo Olympics, he will no longer be granted access to any part of the sport.
Salazar’s case was heard in March after being delayed from November 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic; a decision has not been released.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.