The Nike Oregon Project/Alberto Salazar story

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Alberto Salazar

By now, I’m sure anyone reading this post knows about the story. At first, I didn’t want to write about it. As the story goes on, though, I think it’s important enough to the sport that I should write about it. Not because I’ll write a better piece than the many great authors who have written on this but because I want to offer a place for you to find some of the best links and expand with my thoughts.

The breaking news

First, the original pieces: David Epstein’s article on ProPublica and the BBC article (which includes a couple short video clips and a link to the BBC documentary).

Response

There has, obviously, been a lot of response to these accusations. Obviously, that response cuts both ways. I’d like to comment on a few things I’ve seen in the commentary.

First, as of now, these are accusations. The accusations are very strong and seem to be growing over time. However, there is no smoking gun yet. While things don’t look good, I’d like to hold off a little longer to pass judgement, especially on those who are only tangentially related to the story (such as Mo Farah, Shannon Rowbury, Matt Centrowitz and other current and former members whose names have not come up in reports we have seen so far). Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire but I’d prefer to let this story play out before saying even Galen Rupp, the primary figure in the story outside of Salazar, is dirty, much less athletes who haven’t even been named. I’m not saying they are obviously clean but let’s let the story play out and the evidence come to light before jumping to conclusions. The story is out now, we will learn more.

Second, can we please put an end to the "never tested positive" line of defense? I’ve seen this come up several times since the story broke. Rupp never tested positive, even though he was tested so many times over so many years. You know who else never tested positive? Lance Armstrong. Marion Jones. And they both used that line of defense, very vociferously, even though we now know both were doped to the gills while passing tests. Plus a big part of the accusations specifically involves attempts to avoid positive tests while still using banned or regulated substances. "Never tested positive" may mean you’re clean or it may mean you know how to dope while avoiding a positive test. As much as I wish it was, it simply is not in the current world incontrovertible proof of innocence.

Third, some people are claiming that Steve Magness and the Gouchers specifically, as well as others, are lying either to benefit themselves or because they have some kind of vendetta against the Oregon Project or Salazar specifically. Let’s be real. Magness and the Gouchers have nothing to gain by making these reports and a lot to lose. They aren’t doing this for personal benefit. Getting on the wrong side of Salazar and Nike is not something you do just because you’re peeved at someone or to further your career within the world of distance running. Remember last year’s USA Indoors? Salazar seemed to have the power to convince USATF officials to "bend" the rules in order to disqualify athletes he (in my opinion wrongfully) felt wronged his athletes.

As for the responses directly from Salazar, Rupp and others beyond the "never tested positive" and "vendetta" claims that I mentioned above, we have the usual denials. The denials are expected. If innocent, what would you expect? At the same time, if guilty, do you think they are going to throw up their arms and admit it that easily? One thing that did bother me is that Salazar seemed to call David Epstein’s reporting credentials into question by calling him a "reporter" (with quotes). Epstein is an excellent reporter and attacking the messenger instead of addressing the message itself does not look good. That’s a strategy often used by those who have no good way to address the message because they are guilty.

Salazar’s history

Salazar has always seemed an outsized individual and one who has always stated that he’d do anything to win. Given prior statements, the idea that he may play in the gray area of doping rules doesn’t seem far fetched. In fact, the idea that he might flat out break the rules if he thinks he can get away with doing so doesn’t seem outrageous.

The most obvious and probably well known prior statement:

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The above is a screenshot highlighting a few key lines I thought of as reading these accusations, from a 1999 paper by Salazar himself (pdf).

Further coverage

As would be expected in a story like this, it didn’t end with the ProPublica and BBC coverage. There has been quite a bit of follow-up.

First, Competitor.com interviewed Epstein.

One of a few interesting things to come out of this interview: Mo Farah received letters about this reporting and apparently responded to those letters. This doesn’t look good for him, as he tried to act this weekend like he was caught by surprise with this report. He knew ahead of time, he was not caught by surprise at the same time the rest of us were. It also doesn’t look good that Salazar appeared to address what he wanted to address while not addressing other questions.

Next, a former Oregon Project coach is not surprised by the allegations. Apparently not because he knows of something from the inside but because he knows Salazar will do anything to get better. As he states, "there’s no stone left unturned. If there’s a way to get better, it’s done." He also raises some very valid points about the inefficacy of testing.

Not so much breaking news but Ross Tucker at Science of Sport had a good post this weekend about the no good week for doping (this isn’t the only doping story for the week). In it, he mentioned the curiosity of Mo Farah acting like he was blindsided when he couldn’t have been (see above). He also mentions some other good topics that are at least tangentially related.

Finally, Salazar says he plans to "document and present the facts" as quickly as he can to "show the accusers are knowingly making false statements."

Let’s see what his side of the story is because the side we’re seeing right now paints a very ugly picture. I’m still a little hesitant, though, because he could have responded to the ProPublica and BBC queries with "I will have a response but I need some time to document and present the facts" and BBC policies specifically would have allowed him at least some amount of time to do so before running the story.

The story continues

I’m beginning to write this on Monday and finalizing on Wednesday. Obviously, with a very rapidly moving story, it’s possible that, simply between Wednesday evening when I finalize and schedule this post and Thursday morning when it appears, there will be new developments in this story. I’ll try to keep this post updated in the comments. Stay tuned. I’m sure there is much more to come. I’ll probably try to avoid writing another whole post on this and just update in the comments but we’ll have to see where this story goes and whether a whole new post may be needed if developments warrant.

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