Women's Sports: US athletes speak out following Mary Cain's Oregon Project revelations

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Two

Multiple US female athletes who trained under Alberto Salazar at the now-disbanded Nike Oregon Project have described a culture of abuse following Mary Cain’s revelations.

Middle distance runner, Mary Cain, has accused the disgraced trainer Alberto Salazar of "emotional and physical abuse". 

Cain joined Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project at just 16 years old and Salazar told her when she joined that she was the most talented athlete he had ever sene.

Speaking to the NY Times Cain explained: “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike."

The 23-year-old told the US newspaper that Nike’s Oregon Project was “designed by and for men” and that "to get better, I had to get thinner... and thinner... and thinner”.

“Alberto was constantly trying to get me to lose weight. He created an arbitrary number of 114lbs and he would usually weigh me in front of my team-mates and publicly shame me if I wasn’t hitting weight. He wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight.” 

“I felt so scared and alone and I felt so trapped and I started to have suicidal thoughts. I started to cut myself. Some people saw me cutting myself. And nobody really did anything or said anything.” 

Nike has responded by Cain’s claims: "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 centre of everything we do, and these allegations are completely inconsistent with our values."

Nike added that Mary Cain and her parents had not, however, mentioned their concerns about the project in her attempt to rejoin the programme earlier this year.

"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," Nike said. 

Cain has taken to Twitter to speak out again about the toxic system that Nike’s Oregon Project and Salazar’s coaching produced for its female athletes. 

“No more wanting them to like me. No more needing their approval. I could finally look at the facts, read others stories, and face: THIS SYSTEM WAS NOT OK. I stand before you today because I am strong enough, wise enough, and brave enough. Please stand with me.”

Kara Goucher, US 10,000m runner and another former Nike athlete who trained under Salazar until 2011 said she experienced a similar environment to Cain.

“When someone proposes something you don’t want to do, whether it’s weight loss or drugs, you wonder, ‘Is this what it takes? Maybe it is, and I don’t want to have regrets.’

“Your careers are so short. You are desperate. You want to capitalize on your career, but you’re not sure at what cost.” 

Taking to Twitter following the release of Mary Cain’s revelations about the culture at Nike, Adam Goucher, Kara Goucher’s husband spoke out about his wife’s experiences in the same setup.

He said that following her performance at the Boston Marathon in 2011, where she placed 5th with a time of 2:24min, Alberto Salazar and Darren Treasure told him: ‘“Don’t tell Kara, but she is still too heavy. She needs to lose her baby weight if she wants to be fast again.” No celebration on her tremendous run, just judgement on her body.”

Nike shut down the Oregon Project in October following Salazar’s suspension by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

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