WHISTLE-BLOWING

Goucher wants Nike Oregon Project shut down

When contacted by BBC Sport, Nike said the decision over Salazar 'had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete'.

In Summary

• She wishes Salazar had been handed a life ban.

• Goucher won a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships under Salazar.

Alberto Salazar with Galen Rupp and Mo Farah during a past championship
Alberto Salazar with Galen Rupp and Mo Farah during a past championship
Image: /REUTERS

A key whistle-blower in the case which saw coach Alberto Salazar banned for four years for doping violations says the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) he ran should be shut down.

The decision over Salazar followed a four-year investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) and a two-year court battle behind closed doors.

“It [NOP] has to go,” American Kara Goucher, who trained under Salazar between 2004 and 2011, told BBC Sport.

Salazar said he will appeal the ruling. Two-time Olympian Goucher turned whistle-blower in 2013, making claims of wrongdoing by her former coach to Usada. Two years later she went public, telling a BBC Panorama documentary that American Salazar had encouraged her to take thyroid medication to help her lose weight after giving birth.

Despite his denials, Goucher’s claims were key to a Usada investigation and she testified at two arbitration hearings. She now wants the NOP, which was home to British four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah from 2011 until 2017, shut down.

“I feel really bad for the athletes because I’m sure many of them are innocent, but it’s not my decision,” said Goucher. “If I was Nike I’d be bringing in some new coaches and move on from this Oregon Project, because clearly it had principles not in line with clean sport and we have to just start over.

“These athletes should do the right thing - staying in that uniform sends such a terrible message. They really need to shut it down and give athletes a chance to train under someone new and fresh.”

When contacted by BBC Sport, Nike said the decision over Salazar 'had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete'.

It added: “As the panel noted, they were struck by the amount of care Alberto took to ensure he was complying with the World Anti-Doping Code. We support Alberto in his decision to appeal and wish him the full measure of due process that the rules require. Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”

In a letter sent to all employees on 1 October, seen by the BBC, Nike boss Mark Parker said that while the panel did not find that Salazar or anyone in the Oregon Project administered any banned substances, it “upheld three charges against Alberto, all of which were committed without an intent or effect to dope or cheat.”

He added: “The arbitration panel may have disagreed on three points but agreed that any violations they have found were not out of an effort to dope or cheat.”

Goucher, speaking from her home in Colorado and at times struggling to contain her emotions, also said:

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said this week the World Anti-Doping Agency should investigate all athletes who trained with Salazar. Goucher, who won a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships under the coach, agrees.

“It’s unfortunate but, myself included, I do feel that all of our blood samples over the years should be retested now,” she said. “Just because you run for that programme, it does not mean you’re doing anything wrong. However, we have a conviction here now and many of the NOP athletes that I’ve seen so far have said they don’t trust it, will fight it and are going to stay in that programme - that is very concerning for me.

“I just can’t imagine staying when the head of your programme has been convicted, so that part I just don’t understand. But anyone ever associated with that programme, unfortunately now people will think twice about what you’re performing, and that is unfair.

“I know athletes there that are not doing anything wrong, but that’s just the unfortunate situation about a conviction like this. Alberto is the reason they are in this position — he should be held accountable by his employers [Nike].

“Instead of them saying ‘we’re going to cut ties’, they’ve doubled down to support him.”

Goucher added: “All of us, even myself and my husband [Adam — another ex-NOP athlete] — everyone should go through it. Every blood test should be retested, this is what needs to happen and then we can determine if there should be charges on athletes or not.”

Another NOP athlete, American middle distance runner Craig Engels, who is not trained by Salazar, this week told BBC Sport from the World Championships in Doha that he would like to find out more about what went on.

An independent panel found Salazar and Dr Jeffrey Brown, a Nike-paid endocrinologist, possessed and trafficked a banned performance-enhancing substance. The panel also found they administered or attempted to administer a prohibited method to multiple track and field athletes.

It added that Salazar “tampered and/or attempted to tamper with the doping control process’.

Brown was also given a four year ban. Usada alleged that Brown was complicit with Salazar in “prescribing excessive and dangerous levels of prescription vitamin D and thyroid medicines to NOP athletes, hoping these prescriptions would increase testosterone levels.”

The panel noted that this raised ‘serious questions about proper medical treatment of these athletes.’ It also said the two men shared athletes’ medical information ‘without any apparent authorisation’ and ‘with the aim of improving athletes’ performance via medical intervention.’

Usada chief Travis Tygart has praised Goucher and nine other NOP athletes who helped provide information during his long investigation, and has said Salazar treated them like “laboratory animals” with the treatments they were being given.

The investigation into Salazar began after a BBC Panorama programme in 2015. UK Athletics (UKA), the sport’s UK governing body, then conducted its own review into the claims and gave Farah the green light to continue working with Salazar.

During his time at the NOP, 5,000m and 10,000m runner Farah won six world titles and four Olympic gold medals. He split with Salazar in 2017, which was the same year the coach was first charged by Usada, but the Briton insists he was not aware of the doping charges at the time.

Farah has never failed a drugs test and has always strongly denied breaking any rules. When Salazar’s ban was announced, Farah issued a statement in which he stressed he had “no tolerance for anyone who breaks the rules or crosses a line”.

But Goucher said: “Unfortunately for Mo his legacy is tainted and it is poor judgement. I just can’t imagine a scenario where my coach was accused of that and I stayed. The investigation was not over - no one would have blamed Mo for saying: ‘I trust Alberto, he’s an important person in my life, but until this investigation is closed I cannot be associated with him’. Everyone would have understood that.”

“So for him to stay there, it’s really sad because now you look back on everything differently, and that doesn’t mean he did anything wrong but that’s how we look back at it now.”

Goucher, 41, said new 10,000m and 1500m world champion, Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, had similarly made “poor choices” by choosing to join Salazar in 2016 despite being aware of an ‘ongoing investigation’.

“I read that she is angry with the world - Alberto is the person tarnishing your reputation and that’s where your anger should be directed,” Goucher said.

Nike has also said they will support Salazar’s appeal and are paying Salazar and Dr Brown’s legal bills.

“I do feel like it [Nike] has too much of a grip,” said Goucher. “I mean the CEO of Nike [Mark Parker] - instead of saying ‘we’re going to cut ties with Alberto’, immediately said ‘we did our own internal investigation and we don’t think he did anything wrong and we will support his appeal’. So, not only did they help his defence, they’re going to support his appeal.”

“It’s so sad - he [Parker] should be apologising to all the athletes signed by Nike who were funnelled into that programme. He should be cutting ties and instead he’s doubling down and supporting him [Salazar].

“Other athletes can’t speak out and say how they really feel because the CEO of the company they represent is saying ‘we support Alberto’. It’s a horrible toxic environment.”

Salazar has admitted a testosterone experiment, which used his own sons as ‘guinea pigs’, took place. But he claimed it was designed to protect against his athletes being “sabotaged” by someone rubbing testosterone gel on them after a race so they would test positive.

The Usada panel accepted his version of events but did point out that “it could have also been conducted as part of a nefarious attempt to ‘beat’ the testing system”.

“For him [Parker] to say he knew about the test experiment and he thought it was a good idea - let’s be honest, that experiment was done only to find out how much testosterone you could take before you had a positive test,” said Goucher.

“Anyone who believes they were worried about sabotage is crazy. It’s so disappointing to see that he [Parker] knew about that and didn’t step in and didn’t raise any red flag. Nike has too much control on the sport - we’ve seen it at the World Championships, people don’t mention it in the final, don’t mention that their coach got a four-year ban.”

“You have commentators supporting Alberto saying he just stepped over the line a little bit, and it’s crazy. It’s starting to be exposed just how much of a grip they have over our sport and it needs to change.”

Goucher said it was a ‘relief’ that Salazar had been banned and that she could now ‘move forward’.

“Because it’s something we’ve fought for for so long,” she said. “I first saw things that made me uncomfortable eight years ago and went to the FBI in 2012 and Usada in 2013. It’s been such a long process and it’s really worn me down, has affected my running and it’s been very difficult. It was worth it anyway because I felt by staying silent I was enabling them to continue, but to actually see them banned just gives me hope that people will feel strong enough to come forward and that we can work hard together to clean up our sport.”

“Moving forward what we need is whistle-blowers - we’ve had our IAAF president saying he welcomes whistle-blowers, yet no one from the IAAF has ever reached out to me, no one from USA Track and Field has ever reached out to me about this. So I think that’s the next step really, making people feel comfortable. If you see something you must report it because you’re actually part of the problem if you don’t.”

However, Goucher admits she found it difficult to come forward and almost did not take part in the Panorama programme, which she credits for helping to push the investigation forward.

“It just seemed like everything was against us, and it feels I got some peace out of it, whereas had it gone the other way it would have bothered me for the rest of my life. I was expecting nothing would happen, because we were up against so much money and power, so when I first found out it didn’t really hit me. It was a David v Goliath situation.”

She said Salazar should have been given a lifetime ban: “The arbitrators did not find him culpable of other things that I personally testified about that I feel he should have been held accountable for, so I believe he should have had a lifetime ban.

“But at the same time I will take this as a victory because I didn’t think it would happen because it was a David v Goliath situation.”

On the verdict being delivered, she said: “It was hard for me to believe and, as the days have gone on and I’ve seen people’s reaction, it’s felt more real and I feel we’ve finally made a little progress in the fight.

“There is some hope that we can change the direction sport is headed in and we can start to protect it. I feel like I can run and train with joy and not with this hanging over my head now.”