Legendary Running Coach Salazar Accused of Cheating

By former employees, athletes

Jun 3, 2015
Outside Magazine
Legendary Running Coach Salazar Accused of Cheating

The Nike Oregon Project, of which Alberto Salazar is head coach, came under scrutiny in March 2015.    Wikimedia Commons

*UPDATE: This article contains responses from Alberto Salazar and athlete Galen Rupp regarding the allegations revealed in a June 3 article from ProPublica.

Running legend and Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar has been accused by former employees and athletes of assisting runners in using performance-enhancing drugs, according to a Wednesday report from ProPublica. Salazar’s athletes are tested regularly, but none has yet tested positive for illegal substances. When questioned by ProPublica writer David Epstein, Salazar denied allegations of doping. 

The report states that athletes have accused the coach of everything from “experimenting with well known doping aids,” to “giving athletes prescription medications they either didn’t need or weren’t prescribed in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage from their side effects.” Some runners interviewed for the story allegedly “joked that being fast was only one prerequisite for joining the team—you also had to have prescriptions for thyroid hormone or asthma medication.” (The World Anti-Doping Agency rules require athletes to have a documented condition in order to receive a waiver.)

On June 3, Salazar and athlete Galen Rupp issued independent statements in response to the allegations made by ProPublica and a BBC documentary on the same subject, Reuters reports. Both denied accusations of illegal activity. Salazar said he believes “in a clean sport and hard work,” and called the reports “inaccurate and unfounded journalism.” Nike, the brand behind Salazar’s Oregon Project, has also come out in support of Salazar and Rupp. WADA will investigate the allegations. 

Salazar has been heralded for his work training American distance runners to compete at the elite level. At the 2012 Olympics, Mo Farah and Rupp ran to first and second place finishes in the 10k, and in the last 10 years Salazar has recruited some of the fastest runners in the U.S. to his team.

Some of the most damning accounts in the ProPublica piece come from former Nike Project assistant coach and scientific adviser, Steve Magness, who left the project in 2012. He alleges that Salazar sent a package to Rupp’s room before an indoor 5k in Dusseldorf, Germany, after the athlete complained of not feeling well. Magness claims that the box contained a paperback thriller that had a section of hollowed-out pages where two pills were taped; he asserts that Rupp then swallowed them and said that the delivery was typical of Salazar. 

As Outside recently reported, running, like cycling before it, has recently come under fire for the number of positive doping tests from athletes at the highest levels, though the ProPublica article quotes professional runners who want stricter testing. Kara Goucher, a former Nike Project athlete and now a member of Sally Bergesen’s Oiselle team, told ProPublica, “If the sport’s to be saved, it can’t keep going on the way it is.”

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