Top athletes join Mary Cain in sharing tales of abuse at Nike


Former teen running star Mary Cain’s account this week of body-shaming and alleged psychological abuse at the recently disbanded Nike Oregon Project is prompting other top athletes to come forward.

Amy Yoder Begley, a 10,000-meter runner, said Friday that she was told she had the “biggest butt on the starting line.” Kara Goucher’s husband said the Olympian endured “disgusting” comments from coaches.

Nike says it’s investigating, but the cascade of allegations that have followed Oregon Project director Alberto Salazar’s four-year doping ban have some in the sport saying a day of reckoning was long overdue.

Questions about Salazar’s methods with his posse of top U.S. runners had swirled for years before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found him guilty last month of conducting experiments with supplements and testosterone that were bankrolled and supported by Nike.

But Cain’s plaintive story of harassment and abuse while she was part of Salazar’s training group, which she joined as a 17-year-old phenomenon in 2013, has emboldened other former Nike Oregon Project athletes to share their stories.

In a New York Times video essay, Cain, now 23, says: “I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike.”

Cain said she was harangued to lose weight and publicly humiliated when she didn’t hit targets, stopped having her period for three years, and lost so much bone density she broke five bones. She said it got to the point where she started cutting herself and having suicidal thoughts. She left the program in 2016.

Salazar, who has denied any involvement in doping, issued a statement to The Oregonian on Friday saying: “I never encouraged her, or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight.”

Nike said in a statement these are “deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before. Mary was seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto’s team as recently as April of this year and had not raised these concerns as part of that process.”

Cain acknowledged looking to work with Salazar again, noting she did so because “when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything.” She said Salazar’s doping ban helped her find the clarity to speak out about the abusive conditions.

The sportswear giant also said it will “take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes.”

They’re already talking.

Four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan, who retired from competitive running last month to become a coach with the Nike Bowerman Track Club, tweeted to Cain that “I had no idea it was this bad.” Flanagan, the 2017 New York City Marathon champion, is a longtime Nike runner but was never part of the Oregon Project.

“I’m so sorry … that I never reached out to you when I saw you struggling,” Flanagan wrote. “I made excuses to myself as to why I should mind my own business. We let you down. I will never turn my head again.”

Yoder Begley, who now coaches the Atlanta Track Club, said she was kicked out of Salazar’s group after placing sixth in the 10,000 meters at the 2011 national championships.

“I was told I was too fat and ‘had the biggest butt on the starting line.’ This brings those painful memories back,” the 2008 Olympian said.

Goucher, a former Oregon Project runner who helped provide evidence for USADA’s case against Salazar, tweeted “the culture was unbearable.”

Her husband, Adam Goucher, who also ran for the group, tweeted that after she placed fifth in the 2011 Boston Marathon in a personal best of 2 hours, 24 minutes — one of the fastest times for an American woman that year, and six months after having a child — Salazar and a sports psychologist told her mother and sister she needed to lose her baby weight if she wanted to be fast again.

Adam Goucher said his own weight was also an issue while he trained under Salazar.





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