Former Nike Oregon Project head coach Alberto Salazar is speaking up after several female athletes came forward with allegations of abuse and gender discrimination on his behalf.
In a statement issued Tuesday night, he apologized for any “callous or insensitive” commentary but denied the claims put forth by ex-NOP athletes.
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“On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training,” Salazar wrote. “If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry.”
However, he disputed “the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the Oregon Project.”
Salazar’s statement comes after allegations of emotional and physical abuse were brought forth by Mary Cain, a 23-year-old former NOP runner, in a Nov. 7 New York Times video.
In the video, Cain alleges that Salazar and his staff would berate her in front of her peers if she did not hit an “arbitrary” target weight of 114 pounds, claiming that she was told to take birth-control pills and diuretics, the latter banned in track-and-field, to keep her weight down.
Following Cain’s allegations, former NOP athletes came forward with their own claims of mistreatment by NOP staffers.
Olympian Amy Yoder Begley wrote on Twitter Nov. 7 that in 2011 she “was kicked out of the Oregon Project. I was told I was too fat and ‘had the biggest butt on the starting line.'” Olympic runner Kara Goucher tweeted Nov. 8 that she has “stories to match all of Mary’s claims and so much more.”
Salazar said “frank discussion about weight” were held with all of his athletes, regardless of gender, adding that such conversations are part of elite sport.
“Indeed, I have always treated men and women similarly in this regard [to discussions of weight] — to treat my female athletes differently I believe would not be in their personal interests or in the interests of promoting their best athletic performance,” Salazar stated. “I did not know and was never told by Mary, her parents, or any athlete — male or female — that the discussion of weight was abusive.”
In September, Salazar was banned from track-and-field coaching by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for four years. Through a six-year review, the USADA found that Salazar trafficked testosterone, a banned substance; tampered or attempted to tamper with the doping control process; and administered a prohibited IV infusion. Nike CEO Mark Parker became caught in the scandal as well, after leaked emails were purported to show his knowledge of doping abuse. (Salazar is appealing the USADA doping ban and denies all allegations by the agency.)
On Oct. 10, Nike announced it would “wind down” the Oregon Project. Parker announced his exit from the CEO role on Oct. 22, a departure that some insiders thought could be connected to the Oregon Project scandal.
On Nov. 7, following Cain’s allegations, Nike issued a statement announcing an immediate investigation into NOP practices. The sportswear giant said it had no prior knowledge of such claims.
“These are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before,” the statement read. “We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes.”
FN has reached out to Nike and Salazar for comment.
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