Allyson Felix is commending fellow runner Mary Cain for her powerful New York Times op-ed earlier this month, in which Cain opened up about the “emotional and physical abuse” she allegedly experienced with the sport’s former premier training group, Nike’s Oregon Project.
Speaking with PEOPLE last week at an NBC and Team USA promotional event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Felix, 34, said she talked with Cain about the 23-year-old’s decision to be vocal about the dark side of their sport.
Cain, who set multiple U.S. junior records when she was in high school and was once called the “fastest girl in America,” signed a professional contract with Nike and the Oregon Project in 2013, when the “all-male” coaching staff “became convinced that in order for me to get better, I had to become thinner and thinner and thinner,” she said in the Times.
Cain said that she lost her period for three years — a syndrome called exercise-induced amenorrhea, which causes a lack of estrogen and can lead to osteoporosis and bone density issues — and had suicidal thoughts, in addition to cutting herself.
Felix told PEOPLE that, according to Cain, other women in the sport inspired the younger runner to share her story.
“I got to talk to Mary a little bit ago and she was saying that it was because of us speaking out, you know Kara [Goucher], Alysia [Montano] and myself, that she found the courage to do so,” Felix said.
In May, former Nike runners Goucher and Montano claimed to the Times that their contracts were cut during their pregnancies. Goucher was also one of the first whistleblowers to make doping allegations against former coach Alberto Salazar, who was also Cain’s former coach.
Felix, who is also a former Nike runner, wrote a Times op-ed of her own about her pregnancy while trying to work with the company. Her account was similar to Goucher and Montano’s.
“I’m hoping there’s really a shift in the culture, because we do have to support each other, celebrate each other and be there for each other,” Felix told PEOPLE about more women coming forward.
Salazar, who was suspended by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in September for four years for violating anti-doping rules, denied many of Cain’s allegations to the Times, saying he had supported her health and welfare.
He is appealing his suspension, though Nike shut down the NOP shortly after his ban was announced. (Jonathan Marcus, who says he was the director of that 2015 race, verified Cain’s account, and several other former NOP runners said they were also told by Salazar to lose weight.)
In a statement previously shared with PEOPLE, Nike said that they would investigate Cain’s allegations but claimed that she had expressed interest in coming back to the NOP.
“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,” the company said. “We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes. At Nike we seek to always put the athlete at the center of everything we do, and these allegations are completely inconsistent with our values.”
Meanwhile, Felix is encouraging other athletes, especially women, to speak up about injustices in their sports.
“I think we just have to continue that on, letting people know that they have to speak their truth and there’s power in the collective. We’re not alone,” Felix, who welcomed daughter Camryn via emergency cesarean section in November 2018, told PEOPLE.
On Nov. 18, Cain tweeted a similar message: “It may be hard or scary to speak up, but we are never alone.”
Said Felix: “It feels good to know that other people are going through things and just supporting each other through these difficult time periods and creating change.”
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin next summer on NBC.