Nov 7, 2019

Nike Oregon Project "emotionally and physically abused" runners, athlete says

Nike coach Alberto Salazar.
Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Track and field phenom Mary Cain was the youngest American athlete to make a World Championships team at age 17. But her trajectory was dismantled when she joined a prestigious Nike distance running group in Oregon in 2013, she said in a New York Times video op-ed.

Why it matters: Cain's story reveals some of the methods employed at the recently shuttered Nike Oregon Project and the "win-at-all-costs culture" touted by its coach Alberto Salazar, who now faces a four-year athletics ban for doping offenses.

What she's saying: An all-male coaching staff, widely considered the best in the U.S., continually pressured Cain to lose weight, Cain said. When she didn't, Salazar would publicly shame her.

  • Salazar wanted to give Cain birth control pills and diuretics to encourage weight loss — despite bans on the latter substance, Cain noted.
  • Cain said she developed Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S) syndrome, didn't have a period for three years and broke five different bones because she didn't have the necessary levels of estrogen to maintain bone health. She also developed suicidal thoughts and inflicted self-injury.
  • When she told Salazar and his coaching staff about her struggles, they allegedly ignored her concerns.
"I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike."
— Mary Cain

Salazar has denied many of Cain's claims, and Nike did not respond to a request for comment, according to NYT.

The bottom line: Nike announced it was shuttering its athletic training and track program, the Nike Oregon Project, in October, just two weeks after Salazar was banned from the sport by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for trafficking banned substances. But there remains "a systemic crisis in women's sports and at Nike, in which young girls' bodies are being ruined," Cain said.

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