Following an investigation by ProPublica and the BBC, other athletes describe pressure to get prescription drugs they didn’t need and Salazar’s top runner flies to Oregon to get answers
Updated (Jun. 12, 2015):
Allegations that Alberto Salazar, the most powerful coach in U.S. track, has violated the sport’s medical and anti-doping rules intensified this week with additional runners coming forward and Mo Farah, his most-successful athlete, demanding answers.
by ProPublica and the BBC last week detailed the claims of top athletes and others who worked with Salazar at the Nike-funded Oregon Project that he experimented with the well-known doping aid testosterone — including using his son as a guinea pig to determine how much would trigger an anti-doping test; that he manipulated the therapeutic use exemption system that allows athletes to use medical treatments that are otherwise restricted; and that he gave runners prescription drugs they either didn’t need or weren’t prescribed to gain a competitive advantage.
Salazar has denied the allegations and promised a detailed response that will prove sources in the story were “knowingly making false statements.”
Since the investigation was published, three more former members of the Oregon Project have contacted ProPublica, bringing to 17 the number of athletes and Oregon Project staffers who have described to ProPublica and the BBC what they feel was inappropriate prescription drug use orchestrated by Salazar. Most declined to speak publicly because of the power Salazar and Nike hold in U.S. track. Salazar did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.
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.”
The story has provoked a barrage of news stories in the U.K., where track has much broader support, reporting every detail and quoting prominent athletes calling on British track star Farah to distance himself from Salazar, who coached him to two gold medals at the London Olympics.
Neither ProPublica nor the BBC reported any allegations against Farah, but he pulled out of his next race — reportedly forgoing an appearance fee of about $115,000 — citing emotional fatigue from media coverage. “You guys are killing me,” he told a media throng Saturday at a press conference in London.
Farah and Salazar’s long-time protégé, Galen Rupp, won the gold and silver respectively in the 10K at the London Olympics in 2012. Farah also won gold in the 5K, and vaulted to national icon status.
For the initial report, Steve Magness, a former Oregon Project coach and scientific advisor, gave ProPublica and the BBC a document recording Rupp’s blood tests from a period when he was in high school that noted he was “presently on prednisone and testosterone medication.” Salazar and Rupp say that Rupp has never taken testosterone or testosterone medication. Salazar said the notation was an error and referred to a nutritional supplement called Testoboost — created by a former world powerlifting champion and meant to increase testosterone naturally — that Rupp was taking “in an effort to counterbalance the negative effects of prednisone.”
At the press conference, Farah said that he has never had reason to believe Salazar has violated rules, and he will continue to train with him. But under increasing pressure from the British press, Farah promptly booked a flight to the U.S. and said he intended to meet with Salazar face-to-face to get some answers. By Friday, Farah said he was once again “upbeat
As part of its story last week, ProPublica and the BBC reported that Salazar had been the coach of U.S. middle-distance star Mary Decker Slaney when an anti-doping test she took in June 1996 at the Olympic trials showed an unusual testosterone profile, and ultimately led to her being suspended by the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body.
During the press conference, Farah said that Salazar had assured him that he had not been Slaney’s coach during that time. “That is a serious question and that is a question I asked before [I joined Nike’s Oregon Project],” Farah said. “And Alberto said no, he wasn’t coaching her at the time she failed a drug test.”
In his 2012 memoir, “14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life,” Salazar wrote: "I also coached my good friend Mary Slaney, the American middle-distance legend, at the end of her career.” As the Guardian reported after the press conference, Salazar was identified in numerous media accounts as Slaney’s coach the month before she tested positive, the month she tested positive, as well as in subsequent months after she tested positive.
According to Duke Law Magazine
, on the day that Slaney was informed of the results of her anti-doping test, Salazar began helping to coordinate her legal challenge to a doping ban. Salazar is expected to say
that Slaney’s primary coach was Bill Dellinger, and that he himself was a temporary adviser. A New York Times article dated a month before Slaney’s failed test describes Salazar as her “coach of two years.” An interview of both Salazar and Slaney in Runner’s World in June 1996 refers to Salazar as Slaney’s coach. The pair are photographed
running together, and Slaney refers to Dellinger as someone “who also coaches me.”
A former Oregon Project athlete who spoke with ProPublica and the BBC this week described Salazar acting as both a physician and a pharmacy of sorts, doling out…