Washington - The Nike Oregon Project was set up to end the distance-running
dominance of the east Africans but has become a huge headache for the US
sportswear giant, which said on Friday it was shutting it down.
Salazar, the coach who founded the prestigious Portland-based training
group in 2001, pushed himself to the brink as an athlete, and preached
the same philosophy as a coach.
But the 61-year-old Cuban-born
American's will to win went too far, according to the US Anti-Doping
Agency (USADA), which last week banned him for four years for multiple
Salazar has been a major figure in American
athletics for decades, having won the 1980, 1981 and 1982 New York
Marathons and the 1982 Boston Marathon.
He is a long-time friend
of Nike founder Phil Knight and persuaded him that if the company
financed his dream project, he could end the stranglehold of Kenyan and
Ethiopian athletes on distances from 800m to 10 000m and the
Salazar's career is intertwined with Nike's rise to
become the world's pre-eminent sportswear manufacturer - he even has a
tattoo of the company's swoosh logo.
Even as Nike CEO Mark Parker
announced he was closing the Oregon Project on Friday, he said in a memo
to staff that Nike would still support Salazar in his appeal because
the ban "for someone who acted in good faith is wrong".
said the arbitration panel that finalised Salazar's ban "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".
The group's most
successful athlete is Britain's Mo Farah, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic
champion at 5 000m and 10 000m. Farah left the Oregon Project in
The project currently includes Sifan Hassan of the
Netherlands, who won the women's 1 500m and 10 000m titles at the IAAF World
Championships in Doha last week, and Donavan Brazier, who took the men's
There is no suggestion that any of these athletes have
been involved in wrongdoing, but since Salazar's ban, Farah is facing
new questions about why he continued working with the coach even when he
knew he was under investigation.
Farah won the Oregon Project's
first Olympic gold in 2012 in London in the 10 000m. Galen Rupp, a
long-time Salazar protege, took the silver medal behind him, and Farah
also claimed the 5 000m gold.
behind the scenes, Salazar's colleagues were concerned. Steve Magness,
who spent 18 months as Salazar's assistant but quit before the London
Olympics, spoke out as a whistleblower when the BBC's investigative show
Panorama and ProPublica investigated doping allegations in 2015.
Testimony from various figures alleged microdosing of testosterone, among other suspicious actions.
USADA report into Salazar's activities revealed that Salazar kept Nike
CEO Parker informed of his experiments with injecting a mixture of amino
acid and dextrose at doses clearly above what would be allowed under
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations.
In another email to
Parker, Jeffrey Brown, a doctor who worked with the NOP and has also now
been banned, described experiments with testosterone gel.
responded to Brown, "It will be interesting to determine the minimal
amount of topical male hormone required to create a positive test."
Nike spokesperson said Parker "had no reason to believe that the test was
outside any rules as a medical doctor was involved" and that he believed
Salazar "was attempting to prevent doping of his athletes".
Salazar's guidance, Farah won another golden double at the Rio Olympics
in 2016 where Rupp took marathon bronze and another Oregon Project
athlete, Matt Centrowitz, won the 1 500m.
By the time Farah left the group in October 2017, USADA was investigating Salazar and Brown.
case against the two went to the American Arbitration Association, with
hearings conducted in May and June 2018 setting the stage for the
rulings handed down last week.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart
said Salazar and Brown had "demonstrated that winning was more
important than the health and wellbeing of the athletes they were sworn
Salazar has strongly denied any wrongdoing and said
he and his athletes "have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging
treatment from USADA".
"The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping," he said.