Some top runners and others who’ve worked with Salazar allege that he experimented with testosterone and pressured athletes to use prescription medications they didn’t need to gain a performance benefit.
Steve Magness watched the 2012 London Olympics 10,000-meters final from his couch in Houston. As soon as the runners crossed the line, his phone lit up with congratulatory texts. Just two months earlier, Magness had been assistant coach and scientific adviser to the prestigious Nike Oregon Project, a decade-long effort to help top American distance runners compete with the juggernaut of Kenyans and Ethiopians. Now, in this 10K, the Project had its magnum opus.
In a frenetic sprint to the finish, Great Britain’s Mo Farah and American Galen Rupp friends and training partners at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon2014pulled away from a pack of east Africans to cross the line first and second, a mere half-second apart, before turning to embrace. Ethiopian men had won the previous four Olympic 10Ks, and the last time an American man earned a medal of any color was in 1964, 22 years before Rupp was born. A giant banner featuring a photo of the duo’s exultant finish would soon adorn a fitness center on Nike’s campus, the same center recently un-named for cyclist Lance Armstrong.
And yet, Magness could not revel in the laudatory texts. “It’s supposed to be this grand moment where you played a role in helping someone do something that no one thought was possible, and it’s the complete opposite,” Magness recalls. Instead, it was “one of the most disheartening moments of my life.”
That’s because Magness is convinced that the Oregon Project’s head coach2014running icon Alberto Salazar2014had achieved the pinnacle of distance running success by cheating.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- A Texas man hit the strip club and bought a Lamborghini with COVID aid. Now he's headed to prison
- Existing vaccines might not be effective against omicron variant right away, Moderna CEO says
- Counterfeit COVID masks are still sold everywhere, despite misleading claims
- Marcus Lamb, head of Daystar, a Christian network that discouraged vaccines, dies after getting COVID-19
- Christmas at the White House: Goodbye to 'creepy' snow people, blood-red trees
Now, as the run-up to the 2016 Olympics begins in earnest, Magness and other former Oregon Project employees and athletes2014among them some of the most respected in track2014 are speaking out. In interviews with ProPublica and the BBC, they allege that Salazar, the most powerful coach in U.S. track, is violating the medical and anti-doping rules of the sport.
“He is sort of a win-at-all-costs person and it’s hurting the sport,” says Kara Goucher, the nation’s most prominent female distance runner. She left the Oregon Project in 2011, after seven years.
Their allegations against Salazar range from experimenting with well-known doping aids, such as testosterone, 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 say they joked that being fast was only one prerequisite for joining the team2014you also had to have prescriptions for thyroid hormone or asthma medication.
To use some asthma drugs legally, World Anti-Doping Agency rules require athletes to have a documented condition and obtain a waiver. Thyroid hormone is now prescribed so rampantly among world-ranking endurance runners that both athletes and some anti-doping officials2014including UK Anti-Doping2014are pushing for restrictions on its use. It’s unclear whether the hormone, which counters the weight gain that can come with a thyroid condition, delivers a performance-enhancing effect for athletes who don’t need it. Still, body builders have long abused thyroid hormone right before competitions in an effort to cut fat rapidly and enhance their ripped look.
Over the past three years, Goucher and at least six other former Project athletes and staff members have privately spoken with the U.S Anti-Doping Agency.
USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner says the agency doesn’t confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, but adds, “We aggressively follow up on every report.” USADA’s public testing data, however, shows Rupp was drug-tested 28 times in 2013, the most of any American athlete, and 11 more times than the previous year. (Rupp has never failed a drug test.)
In an email responding to written questions from the BBC and ProPublica, Salazar stresses that he “strictly followed” WADA rules and sought guidance from USADA if he had questions. He says he has never endorsed the use of any performance enhancing drug and has “never coached an athlete to manipulate testing procedures or undermine the rules that govern our sport.”
“No athlete within the Oregon Project uses a medication against the spirit of the sport we love,” Salazar writes.
In emails, both Rupp and Farah say that they have never used performance enhancing drugs nor has Salazar suggested they take a banned substance. None of the former Oregon Project athletes and employees who spoke with ProPublica and the BBC implicated Farah in any inappropriate drug use.
The questions about Salazar’s methods come at a pivotal moment in track and field worldwide. The U.S. sprinting corps has been rattled in recent years by the doping suspensions of several of its stars. The list includes American 100-meter record holder Tyson Gay and his former coach Jon Drummond, himself an Olympic gold medal sprinter, who were suspended over the use of a cream that had testosterone and a testosterone precursor right on the label.
Earlier this month, 33-year-old American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who served a doping suspension from 2006-2010, ran by far the fastest 100-meters of the year, igniting a debate about whether he is still doping or could even be benefiting from past drug use.
In December, a German television documentary provided evidence of widespread collusion in Russia between athletes, officials, and doping-control officers to provide drugs and cover up positive tests in return for hush money extorted from athletes.
Even east Africa’s primacy in the world’s elite marathons suffered a blow when it was revealed last year that Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, winner of the Boston and Chicago marathons, had tested positive for EPO, which increases the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Perhaps unprecedented in sport, the clamor for more stringent drug policies in track is loudest from the athletes2014and not only because of the damage to the sport’s image. Unlike in team sports, individual athletes feel the loss of achievement and earnings more directly if their competitors are doping.
“If the sport’s to be saved,” Goucher says, “it can’t keep going on the way it is.”
The Oregon Project’s successes have been seen almost in a patriotic light, getting the U.S. back in the game through hard work directed by one of distance running’s most celebrated competitors.
Just two years before London, Magness2014whose 4:01 mile ranks him among the top 10 high school milers of all-time 2014could hardly believe his good fortune when Salazar personally recruited him as his number 2 at the Oregon Project. A legendarily tough athlete, Salazar once raced so hard he was given last rites after crossing the finish line.
Unquestionably, he is one of the greatest distance runners in American history, having won three straight New York City marathons in the 1980s, one in world-record time. He also has a building named after him on the Nike campus, and is a personal friend of Nike founder Phil Knight2014both were distance runners at the University of Oregon. Salazar was named head coach of the Oregon Project when it started in 2001, at the nadir of American distance running. The previous year, the U.S. qualified just one man and one woman to compete in the Olympic marathon.
Since then, Salazar has become the most famous running coach in America, and perhaps the world. As his athletes sprinted to the line in London, a TV commentator blared: “Can it be a one-two for the Salazar group?!”
Over the last decade, a huge portion of the most promising pro distance runners in America have been in Salazar’s charge, from Dathan Ritzenhein, the third fastest American marathoner ever, who held the American 5K record in 2009 and 2010; to Alan Webb, who holds the American mile record of 3:46. Salazar was able to entice some of these athletes not just with his name, but with all that Nike’s budget could provide: specialized coaches for strength and conditioning and sports psychology, masseuses, personalized lab tests, altitude tents, a “Space Cabin” cryo-chamber, even an underwater treadmill.
His renown grew from the successes of several of these athletes and for his penchant for experimenting with science and technology to bestow an edge.
The willowy Rupp has been a public testament to Salazar’s methods since 2008, when he made the U.S. Olympic team while still in college. By 2014, he had set three American records, and had earned a reputation for doing intense workouts shortly after racing at competitions. Unlike other Project athletes who came to Salazar as pros, Rupp has been with Salazar since he serendipitously impressed him while doing a conditioning workout as a soccer-playing high school freshman. Even as he worked with other athletes, Salazar’s mission has always been to make Rupp the best runner in the world. So singular was that focus that other Oregon Project athletes derisively referred to their team as the Galen Rupp Project. As Salazar put it in his memoir: “I wanted to start the Oregon Project with the best available professional runners, but ultimately, Galen was going to be the star.”
Salazar has previously said that joining the ranks of the world’s best might not be achievable without pharmaceutical help. In a 1999 speech at Duke University, he said that he believed it’s difficult “to be among the top five in the world in any of the distance events without using EPO or human growth hormone.” He said that his own “desire to win” would be “very hard to ignore in the current age where many athletes feel it is impossible to be competitive against the best in the world without doping.” (Shortly after Salazar gave that speech, WADA and USADA were created, and Salazar now says “our sport is in a better place today since they were formed.”)
None of this was on Magness’ mind when Salazar beckoned.
He was a 25-year-old exercise science grad student when he packed up and moved to Oregon for what he expected to be a dream job as assistant coach and scientific adviser to the best distance runners in the country.
Just a year-and-a-half later, though, Magness left, thoroughly disillusioned with a program that pushed into the gray area of medicating athletes to gain an advantage, and one he came to believe had crossed the line into outright doping.
In February 2011, barely a month into his tenure at the Oregon Project, Magness had his first run-in with a medical practice that bothered him. Rupp was headed to Dusseldorf to run an indoor 5K. But before he left, Salazar wanted him to take prednisone, a corticosteroid often used for asthma, Magness says. Because corticosteroids can block pain and potentially enhance oxygen consumption, and because overuse can suppress one’s immune system, the medication required an official therapeutic use exemption in order to be used in competition. An athlete with such an exemption has been granted use of an otherwise restricted drug or treatment for medical purposes.
International anti-doping rules allow for expedited (and even retroactive) exemptions when acute medical problems need treatment, but Salazar and Rupp were unable to procure an exemption, Magness says. Rupp took the medication anyway, and while he flew ahead to Germany, Magness was directed by Salazar to fly to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to have a bottle of Rupp’s urine tested. “They did that to see if it tested positive,” Magness says. “I hand-carried Galen’s urine through the airport, onto the plane, and into my rental car and drove to this clinic and dropped it off, and that was it.” He never learned the result of the test.
Magness then flew to Dusseldorf to meet Rupp prior to the race. Soon after he arrived, Rupp told him he wasn’t feeling well. Magness called Salazar, who he says told him to expect a package. Two days later, a box arrived at his hotel room. Inside it he found a paperback thriller. Confused, he flipped it open. A section of the pages had been hollowed out to form a compartment into which two pills were taped. “At that point,” Magness says, “my mind was like, this is stuff you see in movies, this is extremely strange.” He handed the pills to Rupp, who he says promptly swallowed them and laughed off the clandestine packaging as typical Salazar antics. Magness, who had been on the job less than two months, says he never asked what the pills were. At the end of the week, Rupp placed fourth in the 5K in Germany. Neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to questions about the hollowed-out book containing pills.
In his email, Salazar says Rupp had an asthma flare up and there was not enough time to get a therapeutic use exemption, or TUE. The testing was to ensure the medication was completely out of his system. In a separate email, Rupp says if he has “used a medicine that is permitted out-of-competition but is only permitted in competition with a TUE, then I will not compete in a race unless I have received a TUE or I am certain the substance is no longer in me.”
Rupp adds that he has had asthma and severe allergies since childhood, “long before I met Alberto,” and, “at all times, my medical treatment has been for health reasons.”
One month after the mystery pills, Magness was sitting at his cubicle on the Nike campus when documents from the on-campus lab were delivered to Salazar’s nearby desk. The lab documents contained years’ worth of athletes’ blood testing records, which were used to see how runners responded to altitude training meant to boost their levels of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin. According to Magness, Salazar told him to peruse the records and share his observations.
When Magness came to a page charting Rupp’s hemoglobin, he was stunned to find a note that corresponded to a date when Rupp was still in high school: “presently on prednisone and testosterone medication.” Magness already knew Rupp used prednisone, but various testosterone medications comprise perhaps the greatest scourge in all of sports doping, and are strictly banned save for cases of extreme medical need.
Bewildered, Magness huddled anxiously in a secluded stairwell. He took pictures of the documents with his phone, and then reached out for advice. “I called my parents,” he says, to ask what he should do. They told him to ask Salazar to clarify the document.
Magness returned to his desk. He sat nervously for 15 minutes before working up the courage to follow his parents’ advice, hoping there was a convincing reason for what he saw. Instead, Magness says Salazar immediately impugned the sanity of longtime Nike lab physiologist, Loren Myhre, and suggested that Myhre’s battle with ALS must have diminished his faculties. (Myhre passed away in 2012, but the record Magness asked about was from 2002, a year when Myhre was given an award by Nike for his work, according to an obituary.) Salazar said Myhre was “crazy and he must be mixing it up with something else,” Magness says.
“It’s like, well, you’re still taking advice from this guy, so why now all of a sudden is he crazy?” Magness recalls thinking.
Salazar told him they should immediately send the documents to the lab to get the matter cleared up. The documents were taken away, but Magness says he never heard about it again.
ProPublica and the BBC confirmed with Magness’s parents and another runner that Magness had told them about this incident at the time2014including Salazar’s response2014and his worries about what it might mean.
“My stomach dropped,” Magness says. “Looking back on it, it essentially took me from almost this innocent kind of wide-eyed person to just shattering all that, to making me jaded, skeptical.”
In emails, both Salazar and Rupp say that Rupp has never taken testosterone or any testosterone medication. Salazar says the notation was incorrect and actually referred to a nutritional supplement called Testoboost that Rupp was taking “in an effort to counterbalance the negative effects of prednisone.” Testoboost, he says, is a “legal supplement” that Rupp has disclosed to USADA whenever applicable.
In the coming months, a second situation led Magness to question how Salazar was using testosterone, a controlled substance that is illegal without an appropriate prescription. Magness says he shared an office cubicle at Nike with Salazar’s son, Alex, who helped work out the team budget. Alex was occasionally used as a guinea pig to test supplements and then get evaluated in the lab. In one instance, Magness says Alex told him that he was testing testosterone gel: rubbing some on, getting tested in the lab, rubbing some more on, getting tested in the lab. Magness and another Oregon Project athlete separately say the reason Salazar gave for the testing was to determine how much of the gel it would take to trigger a positive test in case a rival attempted to sabotage an Oregon Project athlete by furtively rubbing it on one of them at a race. “It seemed ludicrous,” Magness says. He believes “it was them trying to figure out how to cheat the tests…So it’s how much can we take without triggering a positive.”
Neither Alex nor Alberto Salazar responded to questions about whether or why they engaged in testosterone testing.
“Why are you fooling around with something like testosterone anyways?” Magness says. “And furthermore, why are you putting testosterone on your son, who presumably has no medical need for it?”
With his anxiety rising, Magness, who is now head coach of the University of Houston cross-country team and an exercise science PhD student, says he became less dedicated to his work. “I didn’t believe in what we were doing,” he says. In mid-2012, he and Salazar sat down and mutually agreed to part ways.
Two months later, rather than reveling at the thrilling conclusion to the London 10K, he decided then and there to call the U.S Anti-Doping Agency, and share what he’d seen. “I never wanted to be in this position,” says Magness, who, despite his growing reputation as a coach and sports science writer, still fears the professional repercussions of speaking publicly about Salazar. “It would be much easier to just shut up.”
Magness wasn’t the only one troubled by Salazar’s explanations about what he was doing with testosterone gel.
In 2008, John Stiner was a massage therapist working on Oregon Project athletes at their altitude camp in Utah when, he says, Salazar called him with a special request.
The athletes had left the camp, and he wanted Stiner to clean up the condo and ship some items to him. Then, Salazar surprised Stiner. “He said to me, ‘I don’t want you to get the wrong idea’,” Stiner recalls. “And he goes, ‘There’s a tube of Androgel in the bedroom, and it’s under some clothing.’ ” Androgel is testosterone medication prescribed for men who aren’t producing enough testosterone naturally. According to Stiner, Salazar told him: “It’s for my heart, it’s all fucked up.”
The previous year, Salazar had nearly died of a heart attack. The title of his 2012 memoir, “14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life,” is a reference to the length of time his heart had stopped.
In the bathroom, Stiner says he found the bright green pills of a supplement called Alpha Male, and then, in the bedroom Rupp and Salazar had used, he found the testosterone gel amid clothing.
Stiner shipped it to Oregon, and Salazar reimbursed him for the expense. He only grew suspicious later, when he did Internet searches for testosterone gel and saw that it was contra-indicated for people with serious heart trouble.
ProPublica and the BBC asked several prominent cardiologists in the United States and the United Kingdom whether testosterone would ever be prescribed to treat a heart condition. All said it would be unusual to prescribe testosterone to someone with a serious heart condition, because it might increase the risk of death. And all said that it certainly would not be prescribed in order to treat a heart condition. Salazar did not respond to a question about whether he was prescribed testosterone and, if so, why.
One runner who worked with the Oregon Project for several years told ProPublica and the BBC that he went to the Nike lab to see Dr. Myhre in 2007 because he felt run down.
“I did a blood test at Nike,” the runner says. He says he was told his “thyroid was low and testosterone was low.” He says that Myhre suggested he go get thyroid hormone and testosterone from a doctor that Salazar sent athletes to. Myhre, he says, assured him, “This is what Alberto does. You’ll feel better and you’ll be able to train better.”
The runner says he then questioned whether it was cheating, to which he says Myhre told him, “Well no, I mean Alberto does it.”
The runner asked whether taking testosterone would cause a positive test, and recalls Myhre said: “No. No. No. We’ll get you into the normal range.”
Giving low doses of testosterone, a process known as “micro-dosing,” is often justified as simply boosting someone up to normal or optimal levels. But even small doses can aid muscle building and recovery from workouts, as well as promote the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. And micro-dosing2014a technique that owes its fame to Lance Armstrong2014has bedeviled anti-doping organizations because it is difficult to detect.
Salazar and Nike-sponsored distance running teams have been enmeshed in rumors of possible testosterone use before.
In 1996, Salazar was coaching American running legend Mary Decker when she tested positive for high levels of testosterone. Decker, who had been a teen phenom2014she still holds three American records2014was then 37, and had just qualified for the 5K at the Atlanta Olympics. Both denied wrongdoing at the time.
Decker and Salazar had been athletes on the Nike-sponsored Athletics West team in the 1980s, when, according to the 1993 book “Swoosh” 2014 co-written by Nike’s first advertising director 2014 Athletics West athletes were using steroids with the knowledge of team officials. Salazar has always denied doping, and Nike dismissed “Swoosh” as slanted because the author’s husband had gone on to work with Nike competitor Adidas.
Since Magness discussed his concerns with USADA in 2012, at least a half-dozen other former Oregon Project athletes and employees have spoken with anti-doping officials, according to statements they made to ProPublica and the BBC.
Some athletes have described procedures that stay just on the right side of the rules. In March, the UK’s Sunday Times detailed Oregon Project athletes taking injections of a supplement2014L-carnitine2014that can be found in powder and pill form on the shelves of any GNC. The supplement is generally marketed as boosting energy and cutting fat, and anti-doping rules allow such injections as long as athletes take no more than 50ml per six hours. At Salazar’s request, Magness says he served as a beta-tester, and was given more than that to see if it could improve his running efficiency. It did, he says, but only at paces far slower than those of elite racers. No evidence has emerged that any active Oregon Project athletes exceeded the limit, so the injections appear to be unusual, but clearly permissible.
Regardless, the L-carnitine use prompted intense discussion in the running world because of Salazar’s previous insistence that his athletes use no special supplements. At the 2013 World Championships, he told the Telegraph: “None of our athletes are on any sports-specific supplement other than beta alanine, which is an amino acid. Other than that, it’s iron, vitamin D and that’s it. You don’t really need anything else.” One former Oregon Project athlete provided ProPublica with the labels of supplements Salazar recommended2014all prior to his statement to the Telegraph2014ranging from a product claiming to boost natural production of growth hormone, to one that listed the main ingredients as chemical formulas that scientists who later examined the label for ProPublica couldn’t decipher.
Runners were reticent to share their experiences because of the power Salazar holds in U.S. track, noting that last year Salazar’s protests got two non-Oregon Project athletes disqualified from the indoor national championships, leading to considerable controversy. (Both were eventually reinstated.) Two Oregon Project athletes say Salazar encouraged them to use a prescription medication they either didn’t need or weren’t prescribed. A former professional runner who was never associated with the Oregon Project, but used to compete against Salazar says that a few other athletes would privately call him “Albuterol Salazar,” after the name of a popular asthma drug, because he always seemed to have some prescription.
Kara Goucher, the most prominent female runner in America, struggles to keep her composure as she describes her painful transition from believing Salazar held the keys to her world-class dreams to believing his pursuit of success ignored the rules2014and perhaps her health.
Goucher and her husband, Adam Goucher2014also a former Oregon Project athlete2014might reasonably be thought of as the first couple of long distance running in the U.S. They have between them seven college national championships, seven U.S. cross-country and track titles, and three Olympic teams. On a glistening spring day at their home in Boulder, Colo., they let their exuberant four-year old son Colt outside to play, and, with great anxiety, spoke publicly for the first time about their concerns with the man who was once a central figure in their lives.
Kara Goucher, who won a bronze medal in the 10K at the 2007 world championships while being coached by Salazar, had previously only described him in superlative terms. “I was afraid to say anything,” she says. “I’m tired of saying I’m off the Oregon Project because I had a baby and I no longer fit in.”
But the baby did play an indirect role in her discomfort with her former coach.
Five months after she gave birth to Colt in 2010, Salazar was unhappy about Goucher’s weight, she says. Salazar had previously recommended that several female runners he deemed overweight take over-the-counter supplements marketed as fat-burners. But for Goucher, he had something different in mind. “You need to just take some Cytomel,” she says he told her. Cytomel is the brand name for a form of synthetic thyroid hormone, prescribed when the thyroid is naturally underactive, which can lead to weight gain and fatigue. When Goucher asked how she would get it, she says Salazar told her, “Just ask Galen for some of his, he has a prescription for it.”
Goucher was already taking one synthetic thyroid hormone, Levoxyl, which she had been prescribed before coming to the Oregon Project for an underactive thyroid caused by Hashimoto’s disease. She called her endocrinologist and asked whether she should also take Cytomel. “He said absolutely not. You don’t need that, don’t take it,” Goucher says. Cytomel’s label specifically says that prescribed dosages of thyroid hormone drugs are not effective for weight loss, and that larger doses “may produce serious or even life-threatening manifestations of toxicity.”
“Maybe four or five days go by,” Goucher says, “and Alberto brought me [Cytomel] that I didn’t have a prescription for.” The pill bottle’s label had been ripped off and Salazar had hand-written Cytomel on it. Goucher says she didn’t take it, and Adam Goucher added that her endocrinologist later chastised Salazar, telling him to stop playing doctor. Neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to questions about Cytomel.
Both of the Gouchers say that Salazar viewed the therapeutic use exemption system as something simply to be gamed, at times shrugging off the regulations as stupid. At the world championships in 2007 and 2011, Kara Goucher says that Salazar coached Rupp on how to make sure he got an IV drip of saline before his races. While saline is certainly not a harmful substance, and there’s no proof an IV drip is a performance enhancer, WADA restricted the practice because athletes2014most prominently Lance Armstrong2014have used saline drips in order to increase their blood plasma volume and thereby mask the use of drugs.
At the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Kara Goucher was in a taxi with a U.S.A. Track and Field official when she says Salazar called the official, fuming that a U.S. doctor had declined to give Rupp an IV. She says Salazar insisted he would go to a British doctor instead.
Goucher says Salazar later told her how they would convince the doctor Rupp desperately needed an IV: “We have it down. I’ve coached [Rupp] on what to say. The doctors will ask him, ‘When was the last time you went to the bathroom?’ and he’ll say, ‘I don’t remember.’ They’ll say, ‘When was the last time you were able to drink?’ and he’ll say ‘I can’t’.” Neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to questions about the IV in Daegu.
“They wanted the IV for whatever reason,” Goucher says, “to make Galen feel better, whatever, and they were manipulating the system to get it.”
Six months after the London Olympics, while Goucher was still a Nike athlete2014she left in 2013, and is currently aiming for the 2016 Olympics2014the Gouchers went to USADA with their concerns. USADA officials spent hours interviewing them, they say, but they do not know the status of any investigation.
What Kara Goucher experienced2014essentially Salazar’s self-appointed doctoring2014violates the rules of the sport, not to mention prescription drug laws, but the Gouchers readily admit they have no smoking gun testifying to the kind of doping most familiar in distance running: blood doping and testosterone use. Still, Kara is deeply suspicious. “I had a conversation with Galen in 2011 in the British training camp [at the World Championships] in Daegu,” she says, “and he told me how tired he was and how exhausted he was, how he was so excited to have the season be over.” Three weeks later, Rupp broke the American 10K record.
“You don’t get to the end of a long year burnt out and take two weeks off and come out and run the best race of your life,” she says. “That’s not how it works. You have to rest. You have to recover. You have to start all over again.”
Like many pro runners, the Gouchers have seen their sport damaged by doping and shady medicine more than any other, save perhaps cycling. Women never set track and field records in a number of events anymore2014or collect the corresponding pay bonuses2014because some top results were put so far out of reach during a past era of mega-doping. As has happened to an extent in cycling, the Gouchers want a public scrubbing in track and field, so that someday every single great race need not precipitate an explosion of cynical message board threads and social media jabs.
Still, even as Kara Goucher feels she is unburdening herself by speaking publicly, the cheerful face that often stares out from running magazine covers collapses into tears.
“For years, he was a super important person in my life,” she says of Salazar. “I mean, I literally loved him. I loved him. He was like a father figure to me.” Her own father was killed by a drunk driver when she was four.
She remembers what Salazar said one night in 2011 as a group of Oregon Project runners gathered in an altitude training house in Park City, Utah, to watch “60 Minutes” as Lance Armstrong’s teammate Tyler Hamilton detailed the team’s doping. Salazar, she says, “was like, ‘Tyler’s just trying to sell books and he’ll write about Lance’.” Then, she says, Salazar added, “I mean, of course Lance is dirty” almost as an afterthought. But Goucher says it was clear who Salazar thought was in the wrong. “Tyler was this bad person,” she says.
Like all of the others, she’s frightened by the consequences of speaking out about her time with a team led by the country’s most renowned coach and sponsored by Nike, the leviathan company of her sport. She still cares about Salazar’s family, and she knows how she will be viewed. “He was very adamant,” Goucher says, “Tyler was the bad guy.”
About the investigation: The first part of the BBC’s story investigates sprinter Allan Wells, who became a household name in the U.K. after he won the 100-meter dash at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. (The U.S. and 64 other countries boycotted those Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.) Wells never failed a drug test and has been an outspoken critic of athletes who dope. The BBC obtained secret recordings of a doctor who allegedly worked with Wells in which he says the sprinter was taking drugs. The program also has previously unreleased sworn testimony from another sprinter who claims that both he and Wells used banned steroids.
During the program’s second part, Daly investigates the efficacy of the biological passport, which has been hailed by some as the solution to doping in sport. The passport is supposed to detect doping by monitoring fluctuations in an athlete’s blood over time. Daly, an amateur triathlete, ordered synthetic EPO2014which prompts the body to create more oxygen-carrying red blood cells2014over the internet from China, and used small doses under the monitoring of a doctor. Over seven weeks, the maximum amount of oxygen Daly’s body could use improved by 7 percent and he never failed the biological passport testing.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.