The Nike Oregon Project/Alberto Salazar story
by on Thursday, June 11, 2015  (10 comments)

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Alberto Salazar

By now, I'm sure anyone reading this post knows about the story. At first, I didn't want to write about it. As the story goes on, though, I think it's important enough to the sport that I should write about it. Not because I'll write a better piece than the many great authors who have written on this but because I want to offer a place for you to find some of the best links and expand with my thoughts.

The breaking news

First, the original pieces: David Epstein's article on ProPublica and the BBC article (which includes a couple short video clips and a link to the BBC documentary).

Response

There has, obviously, been a lot of response to these accusations. Obviously, that response cuts both ways. I'd like to comment on a few things I've seen in the commentary.

First, as of now, these are accusations. The accusations are very strong and seem to be growing over time. However, there is no smoking gun yet. While things don't look good, I'd like to hold off a little longer to pass judgement, especially on those who are only tangentially related to the story (such as Mo Farah, Shannon Rowbury, Matt Centrowitz and other current and former members whose names have not come up in reports we have seen so far). Where there's smoke, there's usually fire but I'd prefer to let this story play out before saying even Galen Rupp, the primary figure in the story outside of Salazar, is dirty, much less athletes who haven't even been named. I'm not saying they are obviously clean but let's let the story play out and the evidence come to light before jumping to conclusions. The story is out now, we will learn more.

Second, can we please put an end to the "never tested positive" line of defense? I've seen this come up several times since the story broke. Rupp never tested positive, even though he was tested so many times over so many years. You know who else never tested positive? Lance Armstrong. Marion Jones. And they both used that line of defense, very vociferously, even though we now know both were doped to the gills while passing tests. Plus a big part of the accusations specifically involves attempts to avoid positive tests while still using banned or regulated substances. "Never tested positive" may mean you're clean or it may mean you know how to dope while avoiding a positive test. As much as I wish it was, it simply is not in the current world incontrovertible proof of innocence.

Third, some people are claiming that Steve Magness and the Gouchers specifically, as well as others, are lying either to benefit themselves or because they have some kind of vendetta against the Oregon Project or Salazar specifically. Let's be real. Magness and the Gouchers have nothing to gain by making these reports and a lot to lose. They aren't doing this for personal benefit. Getting on the wrong side of Salazar and Nike is not something you do just because you're peeved at someone or to further your career within the world of distance running. Remember last year's USA Indoors? Salazar seemed to have the power to convince USATF officials to "bend" the rules in order to disqualify athletes he (in my opinion wrongfully) felt wronged his athletes.

As for the responses directly from Salazar, Rupp and others beyond the "never tested positive" and "vendetta" claims that I mentioned above, we have the usual denials. The denials are expected. If innocent, what would you expect? At the same time, if guilty, do you think they are going to throw up their arms and admit it that easily? One thing that did bother me is that Salazar seemed to call David Epstein's reporting credentials into question by calling him a "reporter" (with quotes). Epstein is an excellent reporter and attacking the messenger instead of addressing the message itself does not look good. That's a strategy often used by those who have no good way to address the message because they are guilty.

Salazar's history

Salazar has always seemed an outsized individual and one who has always stated that he'd do anything to win. Given prior statements, the idea that he may play in the gray area of doping rules doesn't seem far fetched. In fact, the idea that he might flat out break the rules if he thinks he can get away with doing so doesn't seem outrageous.

The most obvious and probably well known prior statement:

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The above is a screenshot highlighting a few key lines I thought of as reading these accusations, from a 1999 paper by Salazar himself (pdf).

Further coverage

As would be expected in a story like this, it didn't end with the ProPublica and BBC coverage. There has been quite a bit of follow-up.

First, Competitor.com interviewed Epstein.

One of a few interesting things to come out of this interview: Mo Farah received letters about this reporting and apparently responded to those letters. This doesn't look good for him, as he tried to act this weekend like he was caught by surprise with this report. He knew ahead of time, he was not caught by surprise at the same time the rest of us were. It also doesn't look good that Salazar appeared to address what he wanted to address while not addressing other questions.

Next, a former Oregon Project coach is not surprised by the allegations. Apparently not because he knows of something from the inside but because he knows Salazar will do anything to get better. As he states, "there's no stone left unturned. If there's a way to get better, it's done." He also raises some very valid points about the inefficacy of testing.

Not so much breaking news but Ross Tucker at Science of Sport had a good post this weekend about the no good week for doping (this isn't the only doping story for the week). In it, he mentioned the curiosity of Mo Farah acting like he was blindsided when he couldn't have been (see above). He also mentions some other good topics that are at least tangentially related.

Finally, Salazar says he plans to "document and present the facts" as quickly as he can to "show the accusers are knowingly making false statements."

Let's see what his side of the story is because the side we're seeing right now paints a very ugly picture. I'm still a little hesitant, though, because he could have responded to the ProPublica and BBC queries with "I will have a response but I need some time to document and present the facts" and BBC policies specifically would have allowed him at least some amount of time to do so before running the story.

The story continues

I'm beginning to write this on Monday and finalizing on Wednesday. Obviously, with a very rapidly moving story, it's possible that, simply between Wednesday evening when I finalize and schedule this post and Thursday morning when it appears, there will be new developments in this story. I'll try to keep this post updated in the comments. Stay tuned. I'm sure there is much more to come. I'll probably try to avoid writing another whole post on this and just update in the comments but we'll have to see where this story goes and whether a whole new post may be needed if developments warrant.

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10 comments
cesar

Given what He wrote in the article( lined in yellow), He basically is admitting that He would do anything to be in the top. I dont want to acuse anyone, but too much technology for a sport as simple as running is confusing.

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Ryan

That paper has always bothered me, especially given the first passage I highlighted and Nike hiring him essentially with the purpose of producing some of the fastest runners in the world.

I don't put a lot of stock in random accusations but accusations of bending if not flat out breaking the rules have been following him around for over 30 years. Now, we have some hard evidence. Not "smoking gun" evidence but at least enough to make you take notice.

I still believe we should let the process play out, let Salazar respond hopefully with hard evidence of his own, before passing final judgement. However, at this time, this just doesn't look good.

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Ryan

As I mentioned, this is an ongoing story. David Epstein has a follow-up on ProPublica posted today.

The new information is that 3 more athletes came forward with claims, bringing the total number of former athletes and coaches making claims of wrongdoing to 17.

Among the new allegations, one runner recalled being tested four times in a matter of months for thyroid function — despite a lack of any symptoms — until getting a result that, while still well within the normal range, was deemed sub-optimal. The runner recounted finally getting a prescription for the thyroid hormone drug Cytomel.

“It makes you feel revved up and good in a pretty immediate way,” the athlete said. “It feels like a performance enhancer when you’re taking it. I consider what I was doing a kind of doping.”
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Charlene

What I find questionable about running today far exceeds whatever Salazar is cooking up in the Nike lab. There are too many high level runners on thyroid meds and I have a hard time believing that you can get to the top level with an under active thyroid. We all know how hard it is to come back from injury or get to the next level.

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Ryan

Oh, I think this is much more widespread than people realize. One hope I have, if it comes out that Salazar is proven guilty and is as a result properly punished, is that this will strike fear in the hearts of the cheaters. We saw just over a year ago how powerful the Salazar/Nike names are. If this big fish could be brought down, anyone could with the right evidence.

I also hope that, with the focus on thyroid medication abuse, rules will be changing in regards to that medication. Whether Salazar is guilty or not, that as well review of the TUE process in general would be very positive developments to come out of a very negative story.

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Charlene

That blog I showed you awhile back with the lady that had the beyond remarkable progression while on Thyroid meds has been taken down in the last month.

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Charlene

Excerpt from Lauren Fleshman's article that I think will blow open the gray area of doping. "So I talked to my coach, Vin Lananna: I think my thyroid is suppressed. He said that could very well be it, you're not responding to the training anymore, you're tired all the time. And I was like people go to this doctor, Alberto knows about him and I'm thinking about reaching out. And this was the most embarrassing moment, but the really important turnaround for me: my coach looked at me and he goes: "Ya know, you could do that, and if you want to do that, it's your career, and I don't think there's necessarily anything illegal about it, but the reason why your thyroid is as messed up as it is because you're not resting enough, you're sleeping in an altitude tent, and you're training too hard. And you have to back off, you have to change those things, you have to take responsibility."

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Ryan

It's true. Overstressing our bodies screws with body chemistry in many ways. Of course we could medicate to get our chemistry back into sync or we could just back off to levels of stress our bodies are capable of handling.

Taking the first approach may not be technically against the rules but it sure feels dirty to me.

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Ryan

Another update: Mo Farah missed two drug tests before the London Olympics.

A little link bait in the headline in my opinion. One was in 2010, the other in 2011. It's not like they both were in the summer of 2012. One was also before he joined Salazar. I would also note that there are legitimate reasons for missing tests and he seems to be giving reasons that sound legitimate.

That said, even if there are perfectly legit reasons, the image of missed tests given recent revelations is not good.

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Ryan

Salazar responds.

Here's the SI summary of his response.

Here's his full (nearly 12,000 word) response.

If we're to believe him, there were a heck of a lot of coincidental accusations being made and there is a whole lot of paranoia in that group.

I'll continue to point out that there is no hard evidence of cheating. However, the circumstantial evidence is significant and I still feel like there are a lot of questions that are not adequately answered. His response hardly makes me feel confident of his innocence.

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