Is Alberto Breaking Drug Rules

Off Track: Former Team Members Accuse Famed Coach Alberto Salazar of Breaking Drug Rules

by David Epstein

ProPublica, June 3, 2015, 1:03 p.m

Steve Magness, now head cross-country coach at the University of Houston, thought the Oregon Project job would be a dream come true. Within months, he was disillusioned

by what he saw as Alberto Salazar’s pursuit of a pharmaceutical edge. (Michael Stravato for ProPublica)

Steve Magness watched the 2012 London Olympics 10,000-meters final from his couch in Houston. As soon as the runners crossed the line, his phone lit up with congratulatory texts.  Just two months earlier, Magness had been assistant coach and scientific adviser to the prestigious Nike Oregon Project, a decade-long effort to help top American distance runners compete with the juggernaut of Kenyans and Ethiopians. Now, in this 10K, the Project had its magnum opus.

About This Investigation

This ProPublica story was done in partnership with the BBC programPanorama and its reporter Mark Daly. On Wednesday, Panorama is devoting its hourlong program to a three-part investigation into the use of drugs in track and field. ProPublica teamed with BBC on the final part. Read more

In a frenetic sprint to the finish, Great Britain's Mo Farah and American Galen Rupp—friends and training partners at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon—pulled away from a pack of east Africans to cross the line first and second, a mere half-second apart, before turning to embrace. Ethiopian men had won the previous four Olympic 10Ks, and the last time an American earned a medal of any color was in 1964, 22 years before Rupp was born. A giant banner featuring a photo of the duo's exultant finish would soon adorn a fitness center on Nike's campus, the same center recently un-named for cyclist Lance Armstrong.  

And yet, Magness could not revel in the laudatory texts. "It's supposed to be this grand moment where you played a role in helping someone do something that no one thought was possible, and it's the complete opposite," Magness recalls. Instead, it was "one of the most disheartening moments of my life."

That's because Magness is convinced that the Oregon Project's head coach—running icon Alberto Salazar—had achieved the pinnacle of distance running success by cheating.

A banner depicting the Oregon Project’s crowning moment—gold and silver in the Olympic 10K—draped a fitness center on the Nike campus in Beaverton that was previously named after Lance Armstrong.

Now, as the run-up to the 2016 Olympics begins in earnest, Magness and other former Oregon Project employees and athletes—among them some of the most respected in track— are speaking out. In interviews with ProPublica and the BBC, they allege that Salazar, the most powerful coach in U.S. track, is violating the medical and anti-doping rules of the sport.

"He is sort of a win-at-all-costs person and it's hurting the sport," says Kara Goucher, the nation's most prominent female distance runner. She left the Oregon Project in 2011, after seven years.

Their allegations against Salazar range from experimenting with well-known doping aids, such as testosterone, to giving athletes prescription medications they either didn't need or weren't prescribed in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage from their side effects. Some runners say they joked that being fast was only one prerequisite for joining the team—you also had to have prescriptions for thyroid hormone or asthma medication.

To use some asthma drugs legally, World Anti-Doping Agency rules require athletes to have a documented condition and obtain a waiver. Thyroid hormone is now prescribed so rampantly among world-ranking endurance runners that both athletes and some anti-doping officials—including UK Anti-Doping—are pushing for restrictions on its use. It's unclear whether the hormone, which counters the weight gain that can come with a thyroid condition, delivers a performance-enhancing effect for athletes who don't need it. Still, body builders have long abused thyroid hormone right before competitions in an effort to cut fat rapidly and enhance their ripped look.  

Over the past three years, Goucher and at least six other former Project athletes and staff members have privately spoken with the U.S Anti-Doping Agency.

USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner says the agency doesn't confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, but adds, "We aggressively follow up on every report." USADA's public testing data, however, shows Rupp was drug-tested 28 times in 2013, the most of any American athlete, and 11 more times than the previous year. (Rupp has never failed a drug test.)

Fresh off 2012 Olympic success, Alberto Salazar discusses his approach to training with journalists at the Nike campus in Beaverton. Salazar is the most powerful coach in American professional running. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

In an email responding to written questions from the BBC and ProPublica, Salazar stresses that he "strictly followed" WADA rules and sought guidance from USADA if he had questions. He says he has never endorsed the use of any performance enhancing drug and has "never coached an athlete to manipulate testing procedures or undermine the rules that govern our sport."

"No athlete within the Oregon Project uses a medication against the spirit of the sport we love," Salazar writes.

In emails, both Rupp and Farah say that they have never used performance enhancing drugs nor has Salazar suggested they take a banned substance. None of the former Oregon Project athletes and employees who spoke with ProPublica and the BBC implicated Farah in any inappropriate drug use.

The questions about Salazar's methods come at a pivotal moment in track and field worldwide. The U.S. sprinting corps has been rattled in recent years by the doping suspensions of several of its stars. The list includes American 100-meter record holderTyson Gay and his former coach Jon Drummond, himself an Olympic gold medal sprinter, who were suspended over the use of a cream that had testosterone and a testosterone precursor right on the label.

Earlier this month, 33-year-old American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who served a doping suspension from 2006-2010, ran by far the fastest 100-meters of the year, igniting a debate about whether he is still doping or could even be benefiting from past drug use.

In December, a German television documentary provided evidence of widespread collusion in Russia between athletes, officials, and doping-control officers to provide drugs and cover up positive tests in return for hush money extorted from athletes.

Even east Africa's primacy in the world's elite marathons suffered a blow when it was revealed last year that Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, winner of the Boston and Chicago marathons, had tested positive for EPO, which increases the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

Perhaps unprecedented in sport, the clamor for more stringent drug policies in track isloudest from the athletes—and not only because of the damage to the sport's image. Unlike in team sports, individual athletes feel the loss of achievement and earnings more directly if their competitors are doping.

"If the sport's to be saved," Goucher says, "it can't keep going on the way it is."

The Oregon Project's successes have been seen almost in a patriotic light, getting the U.S. back in the game through hard work directed by one of distance running's most celebrated competitors.

Just two years before London, Magness—whose 4:01 mile ranks him among the top 10 high school milers of all-time —could hardly believe his good fortune when Salazar personally recruited him as his number 2 at the Oregon Project. A legendarily tough athlete, Salazar once raced so hard he was given last rites after crossing the finish line.

Unquestionably, he is one of the greatest distance runners in American history, having won three straight New York City marathons in the 1980s, one in world-record time. He also has a building named after him on the Nike campus, and is a personal friend of Nike founder Phil Knight—both were distance runners at the University of Oregon. Salazar was named head coach of the Oregon Project when it started in 2001, at the nadir of American distance running. The previous year, the U.S. qualified just one man and one woman to compete in the Olympic marathon.

Since then, Salazar has become the most famous running coach in America, and perhaps the world. As his athletes sprinted to the line in London, a TV commentator blared: "Can it be a one-two for the Salazar group?!"

Over the last decade, a huge portion of the most promising pro distance runners in America have been in Salazar's charge, from Dathan Ritzenhein, the third fastest American marathoner ever, who held the American 5K record in 2009 and 2010; to Alan Webb,  who holds the American mile record of 3:46. Salazar was able to entice some of these athletes not just with his name, but with all that Nike's budget could provide: specialized coaches for strength and conditioning and sports psychology, masseuses, personalized lab tests, altitude tents, a "Space Cabin" cryo-chamber, even an underwater treadmill.

Salazar is known for grueling workouts — those he did as an athlete, and now those he plans for his runners — and his penchant for seeking an edge through medicine, supplements and technology. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

His renown grew from the successes of several of these athletes and for his penchant for experimenting with science and technology to bestow an edge.

The willowy Rupp has been a public testament to Salazar's methods since 2008, when he made the U.S. Olympic team while still in college. By 2014, he had set three American records, and had earned a reputation for doing intense workouts shortly after racing at competitions. Unlike other Project athletes who came to Salazar as pros, Rupp has been with Salazar since he serendipitously impressed him while doing a conditioning workout as a soccer-playing high school freshman. Even as he worked with other athletes, Salazar's mission has always been to make Rupp the best runner in the world. So singular was that focus that other Oregon Project athletes derisively referred to their team as the Galen Rupp Project. As Salazar put it in his memoir: "I wanted to start the Oregon Project with the best available professional runners, but ultimately, Galen was going to be the star."        

Salazar has previously said that joining the ranks of the world's best might not be achievable without pharmaceutical help. In a 1999 speech at Duke University, he said that he believed it's difficult "to be among the top five in the world in any of the distance events without using EPO or human growth hormone." He said that his own "desire to win" would be "very hard to ignore in the current age where many athletes feel it is impossible to be competitive against the best in the world without doping." (Shortly after Salazar gave that speech, WADA and USADA were created, and Salazar now says "our sport is in a better place today since they were formed.")

None of this was on Magness' mind when Salazar beckoned.

He was a 25-year-old exercise science grad student when he packed up and moved to Oregon for what he expected to be a dream job as assistant coach and scientific adviser to the best distance runners in the country.

Just a year-and-a-half later, though, Magness left, thoroughly disillusioned with a program that pushed into the gray area of medicating athletes to gain an advantage, and one he came to believe had crossed the line into outright doping.

In February 2011, barely a month into his tenure at the Oregon Project, Magness had his first run-in with a medical practice that bothered him. Rupp was headed to Dusseldorf to run an indoor 5K. But before he left, Salazar wanted him to take prednisone, a corticosteroid often used for asthma, Magness says. Because corticosteroids can block pain and potentially enhance oxygen consumption, and because overuse can suppress one's immune system, the medication required an official therapeutic use exemption in order to be used in competition. An athlete with such an exemption has been granted use of an otherwise restricted drug or treatment for medical purposes.

International anti-doping rules allow for expedited (and even retroactive) exemptions when acute medical problems need treatment, but Salazar and Rupp were unable to procure an exemption, Magness says. Rupp took the medication anyway, and while he flew ahead to Germany, Magness was directed by Salazar to fly to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to have a bottle of Rupp's urine tested. "They did that to see if it tested positive," Magness says. "I hand-carried Galen's urine through the airport, onto the plane, and into my rental car and drove to this clinic and dropped it off, and that was it." He never learned the result of the test.  

Magness then flew to Dusseldorf to meet Rupp prior to the race. Soon after he arrived, Rupp told him he wasn't feeling well. Magness called Salazar, who he says told him to expect a package. Two days later, a box arrived at his hotel room. Inside it he found a paperback thriller. Confused, he flipped it open. A section of the pages had been hollowed out to form a compartment into which two pills were taped. "At that point," Magness says, "my mind was like, this is stuff you see in movies, this is extremely strange." He handed the pills to Rupp, who he says promptly swallowed them and laughed off the clandestine packaging as typical Salazar antics. Magness, who had been on the job less than two months, says he never asked what the pills were. At the end of the week, Rupp placed fourth in the 5K in Germany. Neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to questions about the hollowed-out book containing pills.

On a document recording Rupp's blood tests, Steve Magness was stunned to see: "presently on prednisone and testosterone medication." Magness asked Salazar about it but was unsatisfied with the explanation.

In his email, Salazar says Rupp had an asthma flare up and there was not enough time to get a therapeutic use exemption, or TUE. The testing was to ensure the medication was completely out of his system. In a separate email, Rupp says if he has "used a medicine that is permitted out-of-competition but is only permitted in competition with a TUE, then I will not compete in a race unless I have received a TUE or I am certain the substance is no longer in me." 

Rupp adds that he has had asthma and severe allergies since childhood, "long before I met Alberto," and, "at all times, my medical treatment has been for health reasons."

One month after the mystery pills, Magness was sitting at his cubicle on the Nike campus when documents from the on-campus lab were delivered to Salazar's nearby desk. The lab documents contained years' worth of athletes' blood testing records, which were used to see how runners responded to altitude training meant to boost their levels of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin. According to Magness, Salazar told him to peruse the records and share his observations.

When Magness came to a page charting Rupp's hemoglobin, he was stunned to find a note that corresponded to a date when Rupp was still in high school: "presently on prednisone and testosterone medication." Magness already knew Rupp used prednisone, but various testosterone medications comprise perhaps the greatest scourge in all of sports doping, and are strictly banned save for cases of extreme medical need.

Bewildered, Magness huddled anxiously in a secluded stairwell. He took pictures of the documents with his phone, and then reached out for advice. "I called my parents," he says, to ask what he should do. They told him to ask Salazar to clarify the document.

Magness returned to his desk. He sat nervously for 15 minutes before working up the courage to follow his parents' advice, hoping there was a convincing reason for what he saw. Instead, Magness says Salazar immediately impugned the sanity of longtime Nike lab physiologist, Loren Myhre, and suggested that Myhre's battle with ALS must have diminished his faculties. (Myhre passed away in 2012, but the record Magness asked about was from 2002, a year when Myrhe was given an award by Nike for his work, according to an obituary.) Salazar said Myhre was "crazy and he must be mixing it up with something else," Magness says.

"It's like, well, you're still taking advice from this guy, so why now all of a sudden is he crazy?" Magness recalls thinking.

Salazar told him they should immediately send the documents to the lab to get the matter cleared up. The documents were taken away, but Magness says he never heard about it again.

Despite his growing reputation as a coach and sports science writer, Magness is fearful of the consequences of speaking out. “I never wanted to be in this position,” he says. “It would be much easier to just shut up.” (Michael Stravato for ProPublica)

ProPublica and the BBC confirmed with Magness's parents and another runner that Magness had told them about this incident at the time—including Salazar's response—and his worries about what it might mean.

"My stomach dropped," Magness says. "Looking back on it, it essentially took me from almost this innocent kind of wide-eyed person to just shattering all that, to making me jaded, skeptical."

In emails, both Salazar and Rupp say that Rupp has never taken testosterone or any testosterone medication. Salazar says the notation was incorrect and actually referred to a nutritional supplement called Testoboost that Rupp was taking "in an effort to counterbalance the negative effects of prednisone." Testoboost, he says, is a "legal supplement" that Rupp has disclosed to USADA whenever applicable.

Steve Magness speaks with the BBC's Mark Daly. (Footage courtesy of BBC)

In the coming months, a second situation led Magness to question how Salazar was using testosterone, a controlled substance that is illegal without an appropriate prescription. Magness says he shared an office cubicle at Nike with Salazar's son, Alex, who helped work out the team budget. Alex was occasionally used as a guinea pig to test supplements and then get evaluated in the lab. In one instance, Magness says Alex told him that he was testing testosterone gel: rubbing some on, getting tested in the lab, rubbing some more on, getting tested in the lab. Magness and another Oregon Project athlete separately say the reason Salazar gave for the testing was to determine how much of the gel it would take to trigger a positive test in case a rival attempted to sabotage an Oregon Project athlete by furtively rubbing it on one of them at a race. "It seemed ludicrous," Magness says. He believes "it was them trying to figure out how to cheat the tests...So it's how much can we take without triggering a positive."

Neither Alex nor Alberto Salazar responded to questions about whether or why they engaged in testosterone testing.

"Why are you fooling around with something like testosterone anyways?" Magness says. "And furthermore, why are you putting testosterone on your son, who presumably has no medical need for it?"

With his anxiety rising, Magness, who is now head coach of the University of Houston cross-country team and an exercise science PhD student, says he became less dedicated to his work. "I didn't believe in what we were doing," he says. In mid-2012, he and Salazar sat down and mutually agreed to part ways.

Two months later, rather than reveling at the thrilling conclusion to the London 10K, he decided then and there to call the U.S Anti-Doping Agency, and share what he'd seen. "I never wanted to be in this position," says Magness, who, despite his growing reputation as a coach and sports science writer, still fears the professional repercussions of speaking publicly about Salazar. "It would be much easier to just shut up."

 Magness wasn't the only one troubled by Salazar's explanations about what he was doing with testosterone gel.

In 2008, John Stiner was a massage therapist working on Oregon Project athletes at their altitude camp in Utah when, he says, Salazar called him with a special request.

The athletes had left the camp, and he wanted Stiner to clean up the condo and ship some items to him. Then, Salazar surprised Stiner. "He said to me, 'I don't want you to get the wrong idea'," Stiner recalls. "And he goes, 'There's a tube of Androgel in the bedroom, and it's under some clothing.' " Androgel is testosterone medication prescribed for men who aren't producing enough testosterone naturally. According to Stiner, Salazar told him: "It's for my heart, it's all fucked up."

The previous year, Salazar had nearly died of a heart attack. The title of his 2012 memoir, "14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life," is a reference to the length of time his heart had stopped.

In the bathroom, Stiner says he found the bright green pills of a supplement called Alpha Male, and then, in the bedroom Rupp and Salazar had used, he found the testosterone gel amid clothing.

Stiner shipped it to Oregon, and Salazar reimbursed him for the expense. He only grew suspicious later, when he did Internet searches for testosterone gel and saw that it was contra-indicated for people with serious heart trouble.

Salazar reimbursed Stiner for the cost of shipping the Androgel.

ProPublica and the BBC asked several prominent cardiologists in the United States and the United Kingdom whether testosterone would ever be prescribed to treat a heart condition. All said it would be unusual to prescribe testosterone to someone with a serious heart condition, because it might increase the risk of death. And all said that it certainly would not be prescribed in order to treat a heart condition. Salazar did not respond to a question about whether he was prescribed testosterone and, if so, why.

One runner who worked with the Oregon Project for several years told ProPublica and the BBC that he went to the Nike lab to see Dr. Myhre in 2007 because he felt run down.

 "I did a blood test at Nike," the runner says. He says he was told his "thyroid was low and testosterone was low." He says that Myhre suggested he go get thyroid hormone and testosterone from a doctor that Salazar sent athletes to. Myhre, he says, assured him, "This is what Alberto does. You'll feel better and you'll be able to train better." 

The runner says he then questioned whether it was cheating, to which he says Myhre told him, "Well no, I mean Alberto does it."

The runner asked whether taking testosterone would cause a positive test, and recalls Myhre said: "No. No. No. We'll get you into the normal range."

Giving low doses of testosterone, a process known as "micro-dosing," is often justified as simply boosting someone up to normal or optimal levels. But even small doses can aid muscle building and recovery from workouts, as well as promote the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. And micro-dosing—a technique that owes its fame to Lance Armstrong—has bedeviled anti-doping organizations because it is difficult to detect.

Salazar and Nike-sponsored distance running teams have been enmeshed in rumors of possible testosterone use before.

In 1996, Salazar was coaching American running legend Mary Decker when she tested positive for high levels of testosterone. Decker, who had been a teen phenom—she still holds three American records—was then 37, and had just qualified for the 5K at the Atlanta Olympics. Both denied wrongdoing at the time.

Decker and Salazar had been athletes on the Nike-sponsored Athletics West team in the 1980s, when, according to the 1993 book "Swoosh" — co-written by Nike's first advertising director — Athletics West athletes were using steroids with the knowledge of team officials. Salazar has always denied doping, and Nike dismissed "Swoosh" as slantedbecause the author's husband had gone on to work with Nike competitor Adidas.

Since Magness discussed his concerns with USADA in 2012, at least a half-dozen other former Oregon Project athletes and employees have spoken with anti-doping officials, according to statements they made to ProPublica and the BBC.

Some athletes have described procedures that stay just on the right side of the rules. In March, the UK's Sunday Times detailed Oregon Project athletes taking injections of a supplement—L-carnitine—that can be found in powder and pill form on the shelves of any GNC. The supplement is generally marketed as boosting energy and cutting fat, and anti-doping rules allow such injections as long as athletes take no more than 50ml per six hours. At Salazar's request, Magness says he served as a beta-tester, and was given more than that to see if it could improve his running efficiency. It did, he says, but only at paces far slower than those of elite racers. No evidence has emerged that any active Oregon Project athletes exceeded the limit, so the injections appear to be unusual, but clearly permissible.

Kara and Adam Goucher speak with the BBC's Mark Daly. (Footage courtesy of BBC)

Regardless, the L-carnitine use prompted intense discussion in the running world because of Salazar's previous insistence that his athletes use no special supplements. At the 2013 World Championships, he told the Telegraph: "None of our athletes are on any sports-specific supplement other than beta alanine, which is an amino acid. Other than that, it's iron, vitamin D and that's it. You don't really need anything else." One former Oregon Project athlete provided ProPublica with the labels of supplements Salazar recommended—all prior to his statement to the Telegraph—ranging from a product claiming to boost natural production of growth hormone, to one that listed the main ingredients as chemical formulas that scientists who later examined the label for ProPublica couldn't decipher.

Runners were reticent to share their experiences because of the power Salazar holds in U.S. track, noting that last year Salazar's protests got two non-Oregon Project athletes disqualified from the indoor national championships, leading to considerable controversy. (Both were eventually reinstated.) Two Oregon Project athletes say Salazar encouraged them to use a prescription medication they either didn't need or weren't prescribed. A former professional runner who was never associated with the Oregon Project, but used to compete against Salazar says that a few other athletes would privately call him "Albuterol Salazar," after the name of a popular asthma drug, because he always seemed to have some prescription.

Kara Goucher, the most prominent female runner in America, struggles to keep her composure as she describes her painful transition from believing Salazar held the keys to her world-class dreams to believing his pursuit of success ignored the rules—and perhaps her health.

Goucher and her husband, Adam Goucher—also a former Oregon Project athlete—might reasonably be thought of as the first couple of long distance running in the U.S. They have between them seven college national championships, seven U.S. cross-country and track titles, and three Olympic teams. On a glistening spring day at their home in Boulder, Colo., they let their exuberant four-year old son Colt outside to play, and, with great anxiety, spoke publicly for the first time about their concerns with the man who was once a central figure in their lives.

Kara Goucher en route to a surprise bronze medal in the 10K at the 2007 world championships in Osaka. Salazar was her coach at the time, and she had previously only discussed him in superlative terms. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kara Goucher, who won a bronze medal in the 10K at the 2007 world championships while being coached by Salazar, had previously only described him in superlative terms. "I was afraid to say anything," she says. "I'm tired of saying I'm off the Oregon Project because I had a baby and I no longer fit in."

But the baby did play an indirect role in her discomfort with her former coach.

Five months after she gave birth to Colt in 2010, Salazar was unhappy about Goucher's weight, she says. Salazar had previously recommended that several female runners he deemed overweight take over-the-counter supplements marketed as fat-burners. But for Goucher, he had something different in mind. "You need to just take some Cytomel," she says he told her. Cytomel is the brand name for a form of synthetic thyroid hormone, prescribed when the thyroid is naturally underactive, which can lead to weight gain and fatigue. When Goucher asked how she would get it, she says Salazar told her, "Just ask Galen for some of his, he has a prescription for it."

Goucher was already taking one synthetic thyroid hormone, Levoxyl, which she had been prescribed before coming to the Oregon Project for an underactive thyroid caused by Hashimoto's disease. She called her endocrinologist and asked whether she should also take Cytomel. "He said absolutely not. You don't need that, don't take it," Goucher says. Cytomel's label specifically says that prescribed dosages of thyroid hormone drugs are not effective for weight loss, and that larger doses "may produce serious or even life-threatening manifestations of toxicity."

"Maybe four or five days go by," Goucher says, "and Alberto brought me [Cytomel] that I didn't have a prescription for." The pill bottle's label had been ripped off and Salazar had hand-written Cytomel on it. Goucher says she didn't take it, and Adam Goucher added that her endocrinologist later chastised Salazar, telling him to stop playing doctor. Neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to questions about Cytomel.

Both of the Gouchers say that Salazar viewed the therapeutic use exemption system as something simply to be gamed, at times shrugging off the regulations as stupid. At the world championships in 2007 and 2011, Kara Goucher says that Salazar coached Rupp on how to make sure he got an IV drip of saline before his races. While saline is certainly not a harmful substance, and there's no proof an IV drip is a performance enhancer, WADA restricted the practice because athletes—most prominently Lance Armstrong—have used saline drips in order to increase their blood plasma volume and thereby mask the use of drugs. 

According to Kara Goucher, Salazar wanted her to lose post-pregnancy weight. She says he gave her the thyroid hormone drug Cytomel, which she wasn’t prescribed, after her doctor told her not to take it. (Benjamin Rasmussen for ProPublica)

At the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Kara Goucher was in a taxi with a U.S.A. Track and Field official when she says Salazar called the official, fuming that a U.S. doctor had declined to give Rupp an IV. She says Salazar insisted he would go to a British doctor instead.

Goucher says Salazar later told her how they would convince the doctor Rupp desperately needed an IV: "We have it down. I've coached [Rupp] on what to say. The doctors will ask him, 'When was the last time you went to the bathroom?' and he'll say, 'I don't remember.' They'll say, 'When was the last time you were able to drink?' and he'll say 'I can't'."  Neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to questions about the IV in Daegu.

"They wanted the IV for whatever reason," Goucher says, "to make Galen feel better, whatever, and they were manipulating the system to get it."

Six months after the London Olympics, while Goucher was still a Nike athlete—she left in 2013, and is currently aiming for the 2016 Olympics—the Gouchers went to USADA with their concerns. USADA officials spent hours interviewing them, they say, but they do not know the status of any investigation.

What Kara Goucher experienced—essentially Salazar's self-appointed doctoring—violates the rules of the sport, not to mention prescription drug laws, but the Gouchers readily admit they have no smoking gun testifying to the kind of doping most familiar in distance running: blood doping and testosterone use. Still, Kara is deeply suspicious. "I had a conversation with Galen in 2011 in the British training camp [at the World Championships] in Daegu," she says, "and he told me how tired he was and how exhausted he was, how he was so excited to have the season be over." Three weeks later, Rupp broke the American 10K record.

"You don't get to the end of a long year burnt out and take two weeks off and come out and run the best race of your life," she says. "That's not how it works.  You have to rest. You have to recover. You have to start all over again."

Like many pro runners, the Gouchers have seen their sport damaged by doping and shady medicine more than any other, save perhaps cycling. Women never set track and field records in a number of events anymore—or collect the corresponding pay bonuses—because some top results were put so far out of reach during a past era of mega-doping. As has happened to an extent in cycling, the Gouchers want a public scrubbing in track and field, so that someday every single great race need not precipitate an explosion of cynical message board threads and social media jabs.

Still, even as Kara Goucher feels she is unburdening herself by speaking publicly, the cheerful face that often stares out from running magazine covers collapses into tears.

Both Kara and Adam Goucher are among the most prominent American runners of a generation, and both ran under Salazar from 2004 to 2011. Says Kara: “I’m tired of saying I’m off the Oregon Project because I had a baby and I no longer fit in.” (Benjamin Rasmussen for ProPublica)

"For years, he was a super important person in my life," she says of Salazar. "I mean, I literally loved him. I loved him. He was like a father figure to me." Her own father was killed by a drunk driver when she was four. 

She remembers what Salazar said one night in 2011 as a group of Oregon Project runners gathered in an altitude training house in Park City, Utah, to watch "60 Minutes" as Lance Armstrong's teammate Tyler Hamilton detailed the team's doping. Salazar, she says, "was like, 'Tyler's just trying to sell books and he'll write about Lance'." Then, she says, Salazar added, "I mean, of course Lance is dirty" almost as an afterthought. But Goucher says it was clear who Salazar thought was in the wrong. "Tyler was this bad person," she says.

Like all of the others, she's frightened by the consequences of speaking out about her time with a team led by the country's most renowned coach and sponsored by Nike, the leviathan company of her sport. She still cares about Salazar's family, and she knows how she will be viewed. "He was very adamant," Goucher says, "Tyler was the bad guy."

About the investigation: The first part of the BBC's story investigates sprinter Allan Wells, who became a household name in the U.K. after he won the 100-meter dash at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. (The U.S. and 64 other countries boycotted those Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.) Wells never failed a drug test and has been an outspoken critic of athletes who dope. The BBC obtained secret recordings of a doctor who allegedly worked with Wells in which he says the sprinter was taking drugs. The program also has previously unreleased sworn testimony from another sprinter who claims that both he and Wells used banned steroids.

During the program's second part, Daly investigates the efficacy of the biological passport, which has been hailed by some as the solution to doping in sport. The passport is supposed to detect doping by monitoring fluctuations in an athlete's blood over time. Daly, an amateur triathlete, ordered synthetic EPO—which prompts the body to create more oxygen-carrying red blood cells—over the internet from China, and used small doses under the monitoring of a doctor. Over seven weeks, the maximum amount of oxygen Daly's body could use improved by 7 percent and he never failed the biological passport testing.


Mo Farah’s coach Alberto Salazar has broken his silence to insist that he will show his accusers are “knowingly making false statements” and says he denies “all allegations of doping”.

Salazar has kept his counsel since issuing a statement denying allegations made by the BBC and the US news website ProPublica and declaring his innocence last week. But it is understood that he has been preparing a detailed riposte to the allegations – including claims that he gave his athlete Galen Rupp, who finished second to Farah in the 10,000m at the London 2012 Olympics, the anabolic steroid testosterone when he was still at high school.

Salazar reiterated his view that the BBC and ProPublica allegations were inaccurate, unfounded, and had unfairly damaged him and his athletes. “I have said all along that I believe in a clean sport, hard work and I deny all allegations of doping,” he added. “The BBC and ProPublica have engaged in inaccurate and unfounded journalism, with a complete lack of regard for both Galen and Mo.”

In a statement to the Guardian, Salazar – who heads the prestigious Nike Oregon Project where Farah trains – said: “Given the time and effort the BBC and ProPublica committed to making these false allegations I hope that media and fans will afford me a short time to show the accusers are knowingly making false statements. I will document and present the facts as quickly as I can so that Galen and Mo can focus on doing what they love and have worked so hard to achieve.”

The BBC and ProPublica also claimed that Salazar, who is regarded as the best endurance coach in the business and has worked as a consultant for BritishAthletics since 2013, is said to have mentored Rupp to help him flout strict rules about using intravenous drips.


Kara Goucher, the 10,000m world championship bronze medallist who trained at the Oregon Project until 2013, said that Salazar had coached Rupp to try to get a therapeutic use exemption for an intravenous drip before the 2011 world championships. Under Wada rules, such drips are prohibited and anyone caught manipulating the TUE process to get one would be liable for a ban.

An unnamed athlete also claimed that Salazar told him to get supplemented with testosterone and thyroid when his blood levels were low. That athlete claimed: “I did a blood test at Nike and my thyroid was low and testosterone was low. Dr Loren Myhre [the Nike lab’s head physiologist before he died in 2012] suggested that I go and see an endocrinologist that Alberto and most of the athletes work with, to get testosterone and thyroid.

“He said: ‘This is what Alberto does. You’ll feel better and you’ll be able to train better’, and so then I said: ‘Well, isn’t that cheating?’ And he goes: ‘Well no, Alberto does it.’”

The documentary claimed that six other people who were associated with the Oregon Project have spoken privately to the United States Anti-Doping Agency with concerns about alleged illicit practices and unethical behaviour.

A former Nike Oregon Project coach, John Cook, while not accusing any athlete directly, has warned that athletics is losing the war on drugs. “I think it’s pretty obvious that drug testing can be circumvented in pretty much every corner,” he told Runners World.

“The chemists are getting so good that some of the efficacy [of performance-enhancing drugs taken in small doses] can leave [the bloodstream] in less than 90 minutes. So how do you deal with that? Test in the warm-up area? That’s not going to happen.”

Cook, who worked at the Oregon Project between 2003 and 2005, warned that athletics is in danger of becoming a charade. “I follow the sport without particularly much fervour or excitement because I know too much,” he added. “When I was naive, I liked it a lot more. I’ve been turned off pretty much.

Former Nike Oregon Project Coach "Not Surprised" by Doping Allegations

John Cook worked with Oregon Project between 2003 and 2005.

ByScott Douglas MONDAY, JUNE 8, 2015, 12:07 PM11 COMMENTS
Coach John Cook
Sarasota, Florida resident John Cook is mostly retired from coaching after decades in the sport.

John Cook, a former coach with the Nike Oregon Project, said he was not surprised by allegations of misuse of prescription drugs in the program.

Cook spoke with Runner’s World Newswire on June 5, two days after theBBC aired a documentary and ProPublica published a companion articlein which former Oregon Project team members accused the program’s coach, Alberto Salazar, of encouraging runners to take prescription medications they did not have a medical need for in the hope of improving performance.

Cook was the head track coach at George Mason University from 1978 to 1997. Among his runners there was the 1987 world champion at 1500 meters, Abdi Bile. Along with sprint coach Dan Pfaff and strength and conditioning expert Vern Gambetta, Cook was recruited by Salazar to help coach the Oregon Project in 2003, when the program’s primary focus changed from the marathon to middle-distance and distance track races. “My task was primarily to teach them ancillary work, non-running programs that I put together with Dan Pfaff,” Cook said.

Cook said he left the program in 2005, after roughly 18 months, in part because he and his wife didn’t like living in Oregon. In addition, he said, “there were some things I just didn’t like. Some of the coaches I brought in, like Vern Gambetta and Dan Pfaff, got fired for various reasons because they disagreed with some things. Those guys were my amigos, and I just didn’t feel comfortable.” Gambetta and Pfaff declined interview requests from Newswire.

After leaving the program, Cook coached a small group of Nike-sponsored runners, including Olympic bronze medalist and U.S. record holder Shalane Flanagan, World Championships bronze medalistShannon Rowbury, and Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano. Cook said he’s not “a disgruntled former employee. I left on great terms, coached Nike athletes for 10 more years. I have many friends at the company.”

A resident of Sarasota, Florida, Cook, 73, is mostly retired from coaching, although he said he still works with Olympic Trials qualifier David Torrence and advises the coach of Alexa Efraimson, who recently broke the U.S. junior record for 1500 meters.

Below is an edited transcript of Cook’s interview of June 5. We’ve added clarifying information in brackets where needed.

Runner’s World: When you saw the recent reports, especially David Epstein’s ProPublica piece, what were your general thoughts?

John Cook: My general thoughts were that all things eventually come to fruition. I was, frankly, not surprised.

I thought it was very well written and very well done. I was pleased because it brought out some points that needed to be brought out.

RW: Such as?

JC: On the general topic of drugs in athletics—I think it’s a huge failure as far as drug testing is concerned. Some countries have no labs, some countries have some labs, some countries don’t test at all.

I read it very, very carefully. I thought it was needed.

RW: Needed for the specifics of the Nike Oregon Project, or needed to force action on a broader scale on the topic?

JC: I have absolutely no relationship with the Nike Oregon Project, and no relationship with the director [Alberto Salazar], period. So I don’t want to comment too much on that, and I don’t want to accuse anyone. But I think it’s pretty obvious that drug testing can be circumvented in pretty much every corner.

RW: Salazar has long had the reputation of going up to the legal limit of what the World Anti-Doping Agency allows. For example, a couple months ago there was the story about the Oregon Project experimenting with L-carnitine, where the WADA limit at the time was no more than 50 milliliters every six hours, and so they take just less than that every six-something hours. Is that the Salazar you knew when you worked with him? Was the Salazar portrayed in the ProPublica accurate, based on your experience?

JC: What I would say is, there’s no stone left unturned. If there’s a way to get better, it’s done. Is it the prednisone? Is it the inhalers? Is it the cryotherapy? The idea of the program is to avail the athletes of every opportunity to stay healthy and recover to get to the pinnacle.

RW: You’ve had a long relationship with Nike. Nike is in the name of the program. Do you think Nike condones this? Do you think they don’t want to know? That they don’t care?

JC: My main contact has been [director of athletics] John Capriotti, who I knew first as a coach. We had a meeting with [Nike co-founder] Phil Knight and the director of the NOP. Mr. Knight was very definitive that everything has to be by the book. At this meeting, someone was warned “we’ve already had one situation” about something that goes way back. He made it very certain that if anything like that were to occur again, we’d all be gone.

RW: But does this get back to one of your earlier points—that current testing is easily avoided and therefore it’s theoretically possible to meet Phil Knight’s demands while not necessarily doing what he meant?

JC: I don’t think Mr. Knight would want to circumvent anything. I think he’s loyal to certain people, and he backs his people pretty much to the hilt.

As far as your general question about the testing, I think the testing is a joke, and it can’t be enforced universally. To give two examples, you’d need to build a lab in Kenya and build a lab in Jamaica. So the only place where the testing can be equally enforced is the meets. And there are many loopholes there.

RW: So is it harder for an American to cheat than, say, a Jamaican? Is that what you’re saying?

JC: I think Americans as a whole are tested more than others. To give USADA some credit, I think they’re more on top of it than some Third World countries, and I don’t see how that will ever change.

RW: If I understood you correctly before, one of your points was that even if the testing is occurring, it can be worked around if you know what you’re doing.

JC: Sure, there are certain meets you just don’t go to if you know the testing is going to happen.

Also, the chemists are getting so good that some of the efficacy [of performance-enhancing drugs taken in small doses] can leave [the bloodstream] in less than 90 minutes. So how do you deal with that? Test [athletes] in the warm-up area? That’s not going to happen.

RW: In 2013, [Nike Oregon Project member] Galen Rupp was one of if not the most tested person on the publicly available United States Anti-Doping Agency list. How should the average running fan think about that?

JC: I go to the gym pretty regularly, and it’s mostly guys like me, who work out, play tennis, etc. That’s exactly what their point is—[athletes have] been tested, so consequently everything is fine. As you know, Marion Jones never tested positive. [Editor’s note: Sprinter Jones won three gold medals at the 2000 Olympics but was later stripped of her medals and served time in federal prison after admitting steriod use.] No one is going to test positive. It’s just not going to happen.

RW: So from your knowledge, that could or could not have any relationship to whether anything technically illegal is going on?

JC: If you take the testing objectively, and you never fail a drug test, as far as the average person is concerned, if you’re negative, you’re negative, and that means you’re a good guy. But that’s not what’s happening.

RW: So how can the average fan of the sport stay a fan if the lack of a failed test doesn’t necessarily mean that much?

JC: The average fan remains ignorant in terms of it wanting to be that way and wanting it be “Chariots of Fire.” Some of the people I talk to when I’m on the treadmill or lifting weights don’t even know the athletes make money. And they think if [athletes] test negative, they’re as clean as white snow.

That’s the great paradox of the whole charade.

RW: How about you personally then? You obviously still follow the sport and care about the sport.

JC: I follow the sport without particularly much fervor or excitement because I know too much. When I was naïve, I liked it a lot more. I’ve been turned off pretty much.

RW: After the report came out, [Olympic silver medalist] Nick Willis toldRunner’s World, “I want the next generation of young runners to know that it is more than possible to win Olympic medals relying solely on a balanced diet, good sleep, and consistent training.” Do you think that’s accurate, or is he naïve?

JC: First of all, I really respect Nick Willis, and I like his coach. But I think that’s a very unusual situation. Not to be negative, or disparaging about Nick—I think it’s a great statement, and I wish it were like he says.

To give you an example: Dan Pfaff and I and some other coaches developed a program [of extensive non-running exercises] that we thought would be very advantageous to naturally raise testosterone by exercising, especially in women. Sometimes it’s very difficult to raise testosterone levels in very strong males. If you raise it one point, or half a point, in a woman, you’ve done a hell of a job. With this, combined with the running, we thought we could compete. I taught that program to Salazar.

I think if someone does that program, and then you add certain materials, they’re unbeatable. That’s one of the reasons I got out of the sport. We had a lot of success—with Shalane Flanagan, with Shannon and Leo. But I knew also in my heart that I couldn’t sustain it.

RW: What were your thoughts when Shannon joined the Oregon Project in 2013?

JC: I was retired at that time, and of course Shannon had the latitude to go anywhere she wanted to go. I have no relationship with Shannon.

RW: Since she joined the Project? Is that what you’re saying?

JC: Yes. Shannon was like a daughter to me. I love her dearly. And I’m very close to her family and her mother and father. When she joined the program, I wrote her an email and I said, “Our relationship is over.”

RW: This gets to a larger question I have, and it relates back to the average running fan. The Oregon Project and its director have had this reputation for a long time. How should people think about runners who join the Oregon Project given the reputation it already has?

JC: There’s an article in the UK where they suggest that Mo Farahshould stay miles away from it. I think that concerns the whole deal.

What concerns me, and I feel sad about it, is that good and honest athletes, whatever they do, are tainted. And that’s just not fair.

RW: It’s not fair to the athlete?

JC: Well, let’s say someone has a hell of a performance, and he’s part of a certain group. The first thing that will be said is, “Well, there they go again.” And I think that’s unfortunate.

Take, for instance, the best female marathoner [Shalane Flanagan] we have in this country. I coached her for two years and she set five U.S. records and medaled in the 10,000 against the East Africans. I’ll guarantee to this day that she’s as clean as a whistle. Otherwise, why would she have gone with a certain coach and not with a certain other coach? [Editor’s note: After parting with Cook, Flanagan was coached for a short time by her husband, and then began working with her current coach, Jerry Schumacher, who is a Nike-sponsored coach.] Whenever she does something, it’s legitimate.

RW: Is that why you wrote to Shannon what you did?

JC: I mentioned to her that she should pursue every opportunity she could find. And I didn’t mention names, just like I’m not mentioning names now. I think she has a huge, great, clean reputation. And I thought this is not where she needed to go. [Editor’s note: After the ProPublica report was published, Rowbury told Newswire, “I have never seen anything that would make me question Alberto or anyone in the group. As for myself personally, I value my honor and integrity too much to ever cheat.”]

SD: Along those lines, when you were asked to work with the program, that reputation in some ways already existed. Did that concern you at the time? How did you deal with that?

JC: It concerned me a great deal.

For instance, getting a Therapeutic Use Exemption for an inhaler can be very easily done. If I take you and run your ass up and down the stairs five or six or seven times, then take you into the doctor, you’re going to be asthmatic and fail the test, and you’re going to be allowed to take an inhaler.

Don’t get me wrong—some of these drugs make life better for certain groups. But if you’re a healthy person, why the hell would you need an inhaler? I was somewhat concerned about that.

[Agreeing to work with the Oregon Project] was one of my huge mistakes.

But like my wife said this morning, “You’re not exactly Mother Teresa yourself. You did it because of the money.” The money was really good. It was a budget like I’d never had in college.

Getting back to your original question, no one is going to test positive. But there has to be some ethics, there has to be some honor, there has to be some accountability.

And the hypoxic houses, and the this and the that, it all costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

RW: That’s the sort of thing Nick Willis is questioning. Setting aside potentially illegal scenarios, his sentiment is that it shouldn’t be necessary to do all this other stuff.

JC: There are a lot of great coaches who are knowledgeable who think they can outwork this by being tough, hardworking coaches. I honestly think they’re fooling themselves.

I don’t think everybody has a thyroid problem. I don’t think everybody is asthmatic. One person may be, and he may need prednisone and this and that. That may all be legit, but like I was telling you earlier, I can get you to fail that test in a heartbeat. And that’s just a small part of the equation.

The chemists will always win. It makes no difference what kind of program you design.

The other thing that bothers me: I knew Steve Prefontaine pretty well, and I knew Bill Bowerman a little bit, and respected him a great deal. I don’t think they’d be happy with what’s going on in the sport right now. I’m not saying you have to go back to the old days. I’m not that stupid. But that part of the sport is gone. And that’s the part of the sport I like.

Editor's note: In an earlier version of this article, John Cook recollected a conversation with Mark Nenow, a former Nike employee, from 2003 when Cook joined the Nike Oregon Project. That recollection has been removed from the article because it could not be independently verified.


Doping allegations throw shadow over upcoming USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field



The USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships this week at Hayward Field will be the first major meet for most athletes since doping allegations regarding Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar and his top American runner, Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp, emerged recently. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard, 2012)

The weather forecast predicts sunny skies and high temperatures this week for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field, but a storm cloud also looms.

It’s been nearly three weeks since doping allegations emerged against the Portland-based professional training group Nike Oregon Project, coach Alberto Salazar and his top American runner, Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp.

Now the scandal threatens to consume the U.S. championships, a four-day meet that begins Thursday.

Other than brief statements denying the allegations, which first came to light on June 3 in a documentary by the BBC and joint story by David Epstein of the American website ProPublica, Salazar, Rupp and Nike have remained mostly silent or out of public sight.

That will be tough to do this week, with Rupp and several of his high-profile Nike Oregon Project teammates scheduled to compete for a chance to make the U.S. team heading to Beijing later this summer for the IAAF World Championships.

“It’s always a little sad when doping takes the headlines away from what could be a great meet,” said Charles Jock, an 800-meter runner for Eugene-based Oregon Track Club Elite. “We have some great athletes here, some amazing athletes. It’s always sad when doping takes away from them competing and showcasing their talent.”

Vin Lananna, the president of TrackTown USA and Rupp’s former college coach at Oregon, chose to take another view, stating that once the competition begins, the headlines will return to the athletes and their performances.

“I always worry about anything that can be a potential distraction, but I think that the sport is strong enough,” Lananna said. “I think that the momentum that we have going into this and once again selecting the best team in the world to compete in Beijing, it will actually triumph.”

Lananna pointed to what has been a tremendous month of track and field at Hayward Field, beginning with a packed house for the OSAA state championship meets in mid-May.

“The Prefontaine Classic was a phenomenal success, the NCAAs was a phenomenal success,” Lananna said. “I would think that any of this black cloud, so to speak, I think will be overshadowed by all the positives that are going on and will happen this week.”

However, this will be the first major meet for most athletes since the report emerged claiming that Salazar encouraged the use of prescription medication — most notably for asthma and thyroid conditions — that they didn’t need in order to gain a competitive edge, as well as an abuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions, which athletes can get to take otherwise prohibited medications.

Rupp was at the center of the allegations, which go so far as to claim the star distance runner was on testosterone medication in 2002 while still in high school but being coached by Salazar.

Former Nike Oregon Project team members Kara and Adam Goucher and former assistant coach Steve Magness were the star whistle blowers in the initial report. Since then, more have emerged.

Former Nike Oregon Project runner John Rohatinsky wrote on Facebook that there was a “wall of secrecy” between Salazar and Rupp, and former Nike runner and two-time U.S. 5,000 champion Lauren Fleshman told Epstein that Salazar, who was not her coach, helped her obtain medication for exercise-induced asthma and then suggested she take it at a higher dose than recommended to help her performance.

In a ProPublica story on June 12, Epstein wrote that he has spoken to 17 former Nike Oregon Project athletes and coaches who claimed that Salazar uses prescription medication as a performance enhancer.

None of the allegations came with a piece of concrete evidence to suggest that Salazar, Rupp or Nike Oregon Project encouraged or engaged in doping, and Rupp passed 66 USADA-administered drug tests between 2012 and 2014. Still, the report certainly implied that Salazar operates within a murky gray area that makes many uncomfortable.

Rupp and Salazar released individual statements the night of the original report, denying all allegations, condemning ProPublica and the BBC, and professing their dedication to a “clean sport.”

Not good enough, say those who want to see a more detailed rebuttal of the accusations.

“I’m glad that all of this is coming to light and I hope the media attention that comes from USAs is enough to finally get a statement from Nike, get a statement from Alberto, get a statement from Galen,” two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds said. “How we’ve gone weeks into this scandal without a single statement addressing these allegations is absolutely absurd.”

Other athletes, like decathlon world record-holder Ashton Eaton, prefer not to engage in the conversation, frustrated that it puts the spotlight on the wrong individuals.

“For every doping story, there’s 15 athletes who have come from nothing to something, to inspire or make some kind of connection with somebody,” Eaton said. “So I’m not going to contribute to taking away from those.”

Rupp is entered in the 10,000 on Thursday night and the 5,000 on Sunday. He has won six consecutive U.S. titles in the 10,000, set the American record in that event at Hayward Field during the 2014 Pre Classic and won silver in London during the 2012 Olympics.

He was scheduled to compete in the Portland Track Festival two weekends ago, but pulled out. This will be his first meet since opening his outdoor season on May 29 in the 5,000 at the Pre Classic.

“No way I can speculate on how Galen feels or doesn’t feel about this,” Lananna said. “I certainly don’t think he’s happy about it, but at the end of the day he has been a great competitor, in high school, for the U of O, and the world championships, at the Olympic Games, and I assume he’ll figure out how to sort this out and compete in the USAs. We’re fully anticipating that will be the case and he’ll be successful.”

Other Nike Oregon Project athletes entered in the meet this week are Rupp’s former UO teammate Matthew Centrowitz in the 1,500; Shannon Rowbury in the women’s 1,500 and 5,000; former UO standout Jordan Hasay in the women’s 5,000 and 10,000; and Treniere Moser and Mary Cain in the 1,500.

Rowbury and Centrowitz have already addressed the report in recent weeks, denying any impropriety on their part or previous knowledge of the allegations.

Soon, it will be time for others to talk as well.

“We’re all sitting back and waiting to see what happens next,” OTC Elite coach Mark Rowland said. “It’s up to the authorities to investigate and Alberto to defend himself, and appropriate actions will be taken with other people.

“We are a different team, we get on with our own thing. We’re focused on what we need to do and we’re here to compete and do the best of our ability to try and get on the team for the World Championships.”

For the athletes who represent the Nike Oregon Project it has been an uncomfortable few weeks to say the least. If they race they have to face questions, and not just about the doping allegations levelled against their coach, but more probing, personal inquiries. Which prescription drugs are they taking? How many therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) have they had?

Angry Mo Farah had to issue a statement on Friday, not just to answer to the revelations about those two missed dope tests but to fill the vacuum created by Alberto Salazar’s silence.

Salazar has promised proof of his innocence in response to the testimonies provided by 17 witnesses but so far nothing has materialised. It is nearly three weeks since he said he would expose his accusers as liars; nearly seven since he was first alerted by the BBC to the nature of their claims. But Salazar has remained out of sight, leaving his athletes exposed and under suspicion.

Not even Nike have been any use, their vast communications department proving anything but communicative.

So it felt like it was time to find Salazar. Time to discover where he has been hiding away.

Alberto Salazar has been silent since accusations of doping by 17 of his former athletes came to the fore

Alberto Salazar has been silent since accusations of doping by 17 of his former athletes came to the fore

The controversial coach stands between Galen Rupp and Mo Farah after their one-two in the Olympic 10,000m

The controversial coach stands between Galen Rupp and Mo Farah after their one-two in the Olympic 10,000m

It turned out he was still living at the same address where massage therapist John Stiner was asked to send a package when he was working for Salazar and his distance runners at an altitude training camp in Park City in 2008. It is an impressive house in the West Hills area of Portland; one of the more salubrious neighbourhoods of a smart city.

With the gate unlocked it was easy to climb the steps that lead to the front door and press the doorbell. Somebody even heard it ring — Salazar’s wife, Molly, answering within a few seconds.

Her husband was not in, she said. He was walking the dog. But she politely informed me that it was no use waiting because he had nothing to say.

Two minutes later, however, Salazar had pulled up outside in his car. A rather sporty Jaguar XF, boasting a rather large dog on the back seat. A Rottweiler.

While his grown-up daughter led the beast into the house, Salazar remained in the car, refusing to speak even though his window was down. He held up a hand as if to say back off, turned the car around and drove away.

I walked to the end of the road and called a cab. A minute or so later, though, and Salazar’s wife and daughter had pulled up next to me in an SUV. But only long enough for Mrs Salazar to tell me not to enter their property again.

She then drove off in the same direction as her husband, only for her husband’s Jag to reappear and turn back on to their street. Not that Salazar was driving. A woman was now at the wheel, with Salazar nowhere to be seen and the elaborate disappearing act was completed by the return of wife and daughter in the other vehicle.

Salazar, pictured last month, has been silent despite saying he would respond to Panorama's allegations

Salazar, pictured last month, has been silent despite saying he would respond to Panorama's allegations

John Stinertold USADA he found vials in a fridge and hypodermic needles at a Salazar-run training camp

John Stinertold USADA he found vials in a fridge and hypodermic needles at a Salazar-run training camp

It was a weekend when Salazar should have been at the Portland Track Festival, a prestigious two-day meeting held just six miles from his home in the picturesque grounds of Lewis & Clark College. Not only were a number of his NOP runners competing but his principal accusers were also there. Kara Goucher was racing against one of his athletes. Her husband and a former NOP runner, Adam, was there supporting his wife. Steve Magness, the coach who made the most serious doping allegations in that BBC Panorama programme — one that suggested Galen Rupp had been on testosterone medication since he was 16 — was present with his athletes.

But over both days of the meet there was no sign of Salazar, an official revealing how he had called earlier in the week to check the names of the accredited journalists. Perhaps it was the presence of a man from the BBC or a reporter from the ‘British Daily Mail’ that persuaded him to swerve it. Then again, it could have been Robert and Weldon Johnson, twins and well-connected owners of the website, Let’s Run.

Robert coached college athletes. Weldon was an outstanding 10,000m runner who paced Paula Radcliffe to her first marathon world record in Chicago. Over the years the ‘JoBros’ have also asked Rupp many questions about doping. It apparently drives Salazar nuts.

Salazar sent his deputy, Pete Julian, to accompany the athletes who race in that distinctive, slightly sinister black NOP kit; complete with a skull on the right breast. And Julian proved a charmer, barking across to an athlete to tell him he had no obligation to speak to reporters.

It could not have been a more relaxed event. The times were fast — the second fastest men’s 1500m in the world this year — but there was no doping control. And Julian wore a permanent scowl.

Quite where Salazar was remained a mystery. The Nike campus in nearby Beaverton perhaps? At the world HQ of the American sportswear giant they have a running track with a thick cluster of trees in the middle that make it impossible to see from one side to the other, where Farah and the rest of Salazar’s athletes normally train. ‘Alberto has to run down a path to shout out our 200m splits,’ an athlete there told me.

Farah and Rupp train on the grounds of the Nike campus at the impressive Oregon Project

Farah and Rupp train on the grounds of the Nike campus at the impressive Oregon Project

Farah and Rupp undergo weight training under the watchful eye of coach Salazar at Nike HQ in Beaverton

Farah and Rupp undergo weight training under the watchful eye of coach Salazar at Nike HQ in Beaverton

It is a beautiful place to train. There is a bronze statue of Michael Johnson bursting out of the blocks by the finish line. The track is named in honour of the 400m world record holder. And the trees, as the runners explained, protect them from any wind. But there was no sign of Salazar. No Rupp or Farah, either.

Sometimes, a source had said, Salazar uses Ronaldo Field for work-outs; named after the World Cup-winning Brazilian striker. The search for the field took me past an impressive array of buildings, all set in these lush grounds. One of the buildings used to be named after Lance Armstrong. Nike had to change that. One after Joe Paterno, the once legendary Penn State football coach. They had to change that after he was fired in the wake of a child abuse scandal. The building was Nike’s child-care facility.

There is a building named after Salazar, too. Nike executives, also embarrassed by Tiger Woods’s fall from grace and the imprisonment of Oscar Pistorius, must be hoping these doping allegations don’t force them to remove another name. Particularly when they are riding a wave of controversy over signing serial doper Justin Gatlin and have been implicated in the FIFA scandal, with allegations of a $40 million bung to secure a kit deal for Brazil included in the US Justice Department’s report into corruption.

At Lewis & Clark College’s Griswold Stadium, Magness is back for day two of the meet. He had expressed concern for his future when he spoke to the BBC but he seemed happy enough here, no doubt buoyed by the number of coaches who had shaken his hand. Not to mention the number of witnesses who had given evidence to the US anti-doping agency.

Still, it’s a courageous thing Magness has done. He’s only 30 and keen to become a top American coach after being one of the best college milers in the history of US track and field.

Not all Salazar’s athletes performed well and Jordan Hasay lost to Goucher. But others were impressive. Cam Levins comfortably won the 5,000m, while Shannon Rowbury was quite extraordinary in two races separated by just 12 minutes.

Justin Gatlin (right) has twice been convicted of doping, but Nike handed him a lucrative deal nevertheless

Justin Gatlin (right) has twice been convicted of doping, but Nike handed him a lucrative deal nevertheless

Cam Levins (right), who won the 1500m  at the Portland Track Festival, trains with Farah and Rupp in 2013

Cam Levins (right), who won the 1500m  at the Portland Track Festival, trains with Farah and Rupp in 2013

Salazar’s athletes have had other coaches shaking their heads in disbelief at their ability to recover from the most intense work-outs. An incident involving Rupp is the stuff of legend. After a two-mile indoor race he did a session of five one-mile efforts an hour or so later. The fifth mile he is said to have run in under four minutes. As fast as Roger Bannister. 

Rowbury is a world-class 1500m runner. She has broken four minutes and won a world bronze medal. But after running 2.00.50 to finish second in the 800m – three hundredths of a second outside her personal best – she moved up from last after a lap of the 1500m to almost win in 4.07.5. Another 10m and victory would have been hers. She was closing on the leaders like a train. So much so she remained the talk of the coaches on the infield.

Levins didn’t have to talk. Julian told him as much. But the Canadian seemed keen to discuss his win. Until Weldon Johnson asked him if he was taking prescription drugs. Levins answered honestly.

He was on asthma medication he had only started using since the 2012 Olympics, although he stressed it was before he joined Salazar’s group. He looked mighty uncomfortable talking about it even if he did explain he developed symptoms training 190 miles a week in the harsh Utah winter.

He also said he trusted Salazar and Rupp. As did Rowbury.

But then the athletes, with the exception of Rupp, continue to talk. It’s those in positions of authority who remain silent. Salazar, Nike, even USA Track and Field.

It is awkward for the governing body, because not only are they funded by Nike but Stephanie Hightower, the president, is the wife of Ian Stewart; the former British Athletics boss who arranged for Farah to work with Salazar.

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