Nike is closing its elite Oregon Project track and field program overseen by Alberto Salazar following his recent four-year doping ban in a move welcomed by the sport’s governing body.
But the sportswear giant and Salazar’s protégée, Galen Rupp, are backing the disgraced coach’s efforts to overturn the ban.
Salazar was found guilty last week by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of running experiments with supplements and testosterone that were bankrolled and supported by Nike, along with possessing and trafficking testosterone.
The verdict didn’t directly implicate runners from the Nike Oregon Project. But the company is partly blaming the scrutiny on the stars of the training center for its decision to shut the program that began in 2001.
The 61-year-old Salazar has consistently denied being involved in doping schemes. Nike is supporting his plan to appeal the ban. In the meantime, Salazar cannot coach and his credential was revoked during the world track and field championships last week.
“This situation including uninformed innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions has become an unfair burden for current OP athletes,” Nike said in a statement Friday. “That is exactly counter to the purpose of the team. We have therefore made the decision to wind down the Oregon Project to allow the athletes to focus on their training and competition needs.”
The Oregon Project athletes now seeking a new training center include Donavan Brazier, the first U.S. athlete to win a world 800-meter title last week, and Sifan Hassan, the Ethiopian-born Dutch runner who last week became the only woman to win the 1,500 and 10,000 at the same world championships or Olympics.
“We will help all of our athletes in this transition as they choose the coaching set up that is right for them,” Nike said.
A building on Nike’s Oregon campus was named after Sebastian Coe, the IAAF president whose track and field governing body is welcoming the decision to shut down the tarnished track program.
“In light of USADA’s recent decision, closing the program seems the only thing to do as athletes will inevitably vote with their feet and choose not to be associated with a program surrounded with controversy,” the IAAF told The Associated Press.
The announcement was the talk of the news conference ahead of the Chicago Marathon is Sunday, where Oregon Project runners Jordan Hasay and Rupp are competing along with Mo Farah, who was coached by Salazar until 2017.
Rupp, a 2012 and 2016 Olympic medalist, worked with Salazar before the ban. Rupp said he’d support any appeal.
“I haven’t any sport-related contact with him, professional contact with him,” Rupp said when asked Friday in Chicago about his dealings with Salazar since the verdict. “I am not really going to comment on the report. It’s obviously out there.”
Farah was irritated to be pressed on whether his achievements had been tainted by association with Salazar, claiming there was an agenda against him.
“I haven’t done anything wrong — these allegations are about Alberto Salazar not Mo Farah,” said the Briton, who won back-to-back Olympic doubles in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. “I have no tolerance for anyone who has crossed the line.”
USADA released last week a pair of 100-plus-page decisions by an arbitration panel that delivered the suspensions for both Salazar and Dr. Jeffrey Brown, the endocrinologist who did contract work for NOP and administered the medicine.
The documents, combined with earlier reporting by the BBC and ProPublica, portrayed a coach and doctor who used athletes and employees as guinea pigs to test theories on how supplements and medicine in various doses could enhance performance without breaking anti-doping rules by triggering a positive test.
The documents also showed they went to great lengths to produce falsified and incomplete medical records that made their master plan hard to detect.
“It is the right thing and now let’s hope they accept that mistakes were made and truly commit to clean sport and the health, well-being of athletes,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said.
Nike has already shut down the OP website, which detailed how Salazar and Tom Clarke founded the program in 2001 after bemoaning the state of American distance running. Clarke is currently president of Nike Innovation.
Nike wrote the contracts and paid the athletes in the training program at the company’s campus in Beaverton, Oregon.
“Nike has always tried to put the athlete and their needs at the front of all of our decisions,” the Nike statement said. “While the panel found there was no orchestrated doping, no finding that performance enhancing drugs have ever been used on Oregon Project athletes and went out of its way to note Alberto’s desire to follow all rules, ultimately Alberto can no longer coach while the appeal is pending.”
Documents released by the USADA showed that Nike CEO Mark Parker was aware of experiments that Salazar and a doctor conducted on employees and athletes, and even Salazar’s own sons, to test the amounts of substances like testosterone cream that could be applied to enhance performance without breaking anti-doping rules.
Parker said last week he never had any reason to believe the tests violated doping rules. They were characterized as an effort to understand how rivals could be cheating.
Distance runner Kara Goucher and a former NOP coach, Steve Magness, were among the dozens of witnesses who provided evidence for the case. Goucher wrote Friday on her Twitter account : “Feeling relieved that no more athletes will have to wear this shameful uniform. But Parker can’t have it both ways. You can’t support clean sport and still defend Salazar.”
AP National Writer Eddie Pells and AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Stuttgart, Germany, contributed to this report.
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