FALLING APART AT THE SEEMS

Alberto Salazar

Alberto Salazar

Good news — Bad news on this National Running Day 2015.  The bad news comes from the BBC investigative show Panorama, which, in conjunction with Pro Publica raised disquieting questions about alleged drug use and unethical practices by Coach Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project.  I won’t retrace the allegations. You can read the complete story at the Pro Publica link above. *

Suffice it to say that performance-enhancing drugs have been the bane of sports for over sixty years. How many of the current track records do people really believe were achieved on the up-and-up? Today, it is damned if you do run fast, jump high, or throw far (see Justin Gatlin), and damned if you don’t (everybody else).

I’m no apologist for drug use, but with the political conflagration at FIFA, soccer’s governing body, and the corruption  everyone knows to be endemic in athletics, where does the concept of fair play even begin to come into consideration for the lowly athletes of this world? Kris Kristofferson wrote about such displacement with “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. In analyzing risk-reward, there has to be a semblance of balance in the weighing. So when the scale tilts to no perceived downside, and any action is regarded as  reaction to an uneven playing field, where is systemic disincentive? Fair play? A rich man’s pleasure, not a poor man’s choice. When white collar crime is punished with fines while street offenses land years in jail, what lessons are taken?

So the thinking goes something along the lines: If I use PEDs and don’t get caught, then I can collect and change my life and all those around me. But even if do get caught, if all that happens is I revert to the same nothing I began with, why wouldn’t I do it? That’s why Wesley Korir‘s bill before the Kenyan parliament to criminalize performance enhancing drug use might finally institute a cost that offsets the reward. But a two-year ban? That’s a holiday.

*

There were always rumors of drug use coming out of Athletics West, the all-star team Nike developed at the height of the first running boom.  But AW was shuttered just weeks after Michigan’s Jeff Drenth died in the team office following a workout in 1986. Just 24 at the time, Drenth’s irregular heartbeat and cause of death were never officially known, linking, rightly or wrongly, his tragic passing to the closing of the AW program.

Swoosh, The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There, a book written in 1992 by Julie Strasser (ex-wife of Nike’s one-time chief counsel Rob Strasser) and Laurie Becklund, alleged that many athletes on the AW team used steroids with Nike’s knowledge. Salazar was a leading member of that team beginning in the early 1980s during the time he won the two of his three New York City and single Boston Marathon titles. And when his own running career went from comet to casualty after New York 1982, there were those who believed that drugs were a contributing cause of the flame out.

While no evidence ever arose to back those beliefs, the rumors persisted.  And combined with Al’s intense personality and rigorous search for supplements that might resurrect his career, he made it hard on himself in terms of finding allies. As Kara Goucher said in the BBC show, “he has always been a win at all costs person.”

But that doesn’t make him a cheat. I have known Alberto since 1977, even before he headed west to attend the University of Oregon. So that’s my bias. I also know of his strong Christian belief and family values.

Extremely focused but without a finishing gear, Al attacked his opponents, willing to sacrifice himself to the effort.  He famously put himself in harms way at the 1978 Falmouth Road Race and 1982 Boston Marathon, and brought that aggression to his coaching. Hard track sessions right after indoor races? Either innovative or way too much.  In other words, here was a complex, driven man whose own health has been compromised in part because of that drive, as when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 2007.

Nobody’s saying he’s not playing the margins. But where is the line? Where does gray become black? How close to the line is any of today’s crop of top athletes?  It’s the system they have all been taught.

*

Last year Alberto approached two separate women about taking over the NOP middle distance and women’s programs, explaining his own limitations in those areas. So ask yourself, does trying to recruit an outside coach, neither of whom came from within  the Nike system, come across as a secretive rules infringer? What, he was going to bring someone new in then NOT tell her about the micro-dosing or thyroid drug usage policy? And since no mention or allegation in the Panorama / Pro Publica investigation was made about Mo Farah, Salazar’s #1 charge, are we to believe that only Galen Rupp was on the secret sauce?

Don’t get me wrong. It could all be true, and this could well be a duck. But I need more than what has been offered to feather it.

*

Now for the good news.  Today, USATF released the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon course in Los Angeles.  It is a nifty four-loop circuit (along with a 2.2 mile rounding loop) that begins and finishes at the LA Live complex downtown adjacent to Staples Center, then pays homage to the 1932 & `84 Olympic Games with its passing of the L.A. Coliseum at the south end of the six-mile loop, while utilizing wide Figueroa Street as its main drag, which links in with the history of the Asics L.A. Marathon itself. olympic-trial-general-map-v3a The course is flat and fan-friendly, and promises to showcase the abundant U.S. distance talent quite nicely, as well as selecting a very representational team for Rio.

END

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31 thoughts on “FALLING APART AT THE SEEMS

  1. Thanks Toni, we’ll see where the Salazar story leads us. Alex Hutchinson raises another intriguing-yet-underappreciated aspect of PED usage in today’s “Sweat Science” column, pointing out in his biochemical explanation of muscle memory that “Even after serving a ban of a few years, it’s possible that your muscles are still primed to respond to training at a higher level than they would have been without drugs.” Which, if true, could provide even more of an incentive and less of a deterrent to would-be cheaters.

    The plot thickens…

  2. Toni: Your defense of Alberto is understandable, particularly because you know him well. Alberto and Grey Meyer were the two people who inspired me to start running back in the early 80s, after I saw Alberto run in NYC and watched Meyer win, in person, what was then called The Detroit Free Press International Marathon. Because of them, I decided that I not only wanted to run, but I wanted to run marathons. In the years since I had the opportunity to go to an after-race party at Meyer’s home when I was sponsored by Brooks (I believe that the race was what was then called the Old Kent River Bank Run) and I met Alberto in 2002 when I was working at Road Runner Sports.

    It’s tough to think that the people we admire and respect, the people who helped shape our own lives might not be as admirable as we want to believe. It’s really really hard to see people knocked off their pedestal. But…that’s life. People are not perfect and when it comes to the use of PED’s I think we may have to change our entire mindset or we’re going to go insane. An article on the front page of the NYT today, from the AP, said that 33 million people in the US have an alcohol problem. 33 million out of a population of about 320 million. Those numbers are staggering. And how many people in this country have a drug problem: either prescription drugs or “street” drugs like heroin or cocaine? Regarding the prescription drugs the numbers are probably as high, or higher, than the alcohol abuse. People use drugs. They always have and they always will, for a multitude of reasons, which in the case of athletes is to be the best he or she can be at their sport. We need to stop banging our heads against the wall in a vain attempt to change this scenario because it’s never going to change…never.

    Alberto Salazar was a magnificent athlete, I imagine that he’s a wonderful husband and father, and an excellent coach. If in fact it’s eventually revealed that he did have his athletes use PED’s as part of their training regime, I for one, don’t fault him for it, he’s human.

    • Claudia what was ‘then called the Detroit Free Press International Marathon’ is still known by that name. ‘Old Kent’ is now ‘Fifth Third’, bank affiliated.

      • Thanks, Scott. I thought that the marathon now has the name of the sponsor in it. Wasn’t it a bank? And I did know about the name change for Old Kent as well.

  3. The sport has been flopping around for years because the inmates are running the asylum. You my friend Toni, are cheering for the inmates.

      • I’m not. Many athletes are not. I don’t know if Salazar is guilty. I really hope he isn’t. I have looked up to him since the late 1970s. But don’t even try to suggest that, if he is guilty, his moral culpability is somehow diminished because everyone cuts corners. Everyone doesn’t cut corners. Simple stated, drug cheats are ruining sports. Drug cheats should be banned for life and subject to criminal prosecution.

  4. Well said, Toni. Does sound disturbingly similar to the early stages of the Lance debacle, so I’m just waiting for it all to crumble – as it should. Before we all knew, I wanted to believe Lance, and I want to believe Alberto, but I want to know the truth even more, so let’s hear it – too many rumblings over too many years by too many trustworthy sources to not be something there. Only thing clear to me is that is is no straight line of truth, no black & white, no one all good or all bad, however most agree that if there are rules of the game, the competitors should follow them, and the rules should be written to give everyone playing the same shot at the podium, and they should be enforced consistently.

    • I didn’t believed Lance from the start. I sat in a cancer support group listening to survivors defend him, all I would say was “I don’t know how he’s getting through the tests, but he’s not clean”.

      I’ve been suspicious of the volume of great running times coming out year after year. Ma’s army, it all goes back decades.

      If this all proves true, and right now it is a who do you believe game, then in my opinion, lines have been crossed, if not purposefully smeared. But what does my opinion matter, not much. However, if laws have been broken, this is serious stuff.

      I’m like Toni, Alberto and I were teammates, we’ve even communicated about cancer in his family. I don’t want this to be true, particularly as an Oregonian and a former Duck. But I’m more for the athletes who compete fairly, and I do not causally dismiss the assertions of the former athletes and coach.

      Disappointing, again. I so jaded by professional sports.

      • Thanks for joining in, Ken. You have a perspective that few others have. I think it’s to the point where, like the legalization of pot, the sporting world has to know when to say uncle. In the decades that drugs have been around, the transgressors have continuously been ahead of the testers. I spoke to someone else how this season on So You Think You Can Dance they have separated the dancers into Stage and Street divisions, because the street kids can’t do any of the other forms and would always get eliminated. But the big audience wanted to see the street stuff. So they acquiesced, and essentially upgraded the street dancing to the same level, but not in competition with ballroom styles. Perhaps there should be a libertarian choice going forward with supervision and passports. Not that folks still won;t cheat, but the way it is now, nobody believes anything and we end up being the poster child for cheating. Anyway, thanks again, and continue being well.

    • All modern day Trials and Olympic Marathon courses are going to be multiple loops, because TV makes that call. In L.A. you have to find ground that isn’t going to be full of hills, so sticking to Figueroa Street from LA Live to the Coliseum covers those bases very well given the aforementioned parameters.

    • Boston used a multi-loop course for the women’s Olympic marathon trials in 2008 and, from a spectator’s perspective, it was awesome. We found a good spot on Memorial Drive and enjoyed being able to watch the race develop each time the runners passed us. Marathon fans in LA should enjoy it, too.

  5. Disappointing, but not surprising. Yeah, more to be sorted out, but this sport has lost me. What is to be said to those of us who were and are clean? Oh well, off to try to help cancer patients with exercise … oh … that universe and goodwill was rocked by drug cheating too. Sigh.

    • You are one of my heroes… for both your running accomplishments as well as your cancer battle! Don’t give up on either the sport or the cancer fighting cause. Both can be reformed. We need people like you. Craig

  6. You know better Toni Reavis and should have drawn your saber years ago. You and your cabal are just running out the clock.

  7. Toni:

    You had no choice but to acknowledge the BBC Scotland investigative documentary hosted by Mark Daly and the collaborative ProPublica article written by David Epstein that broke yesterday. It was huge news yesterday…and still is! These are not National Enquirer type journalistic entities…. these are serious and professional journalists and follow established legal “rules of engagement” that usually prevent them from being drawn into false accusations/innuendo without serious and substantial documentation so as to prevent a lawsuit worth millions or settlements worth hundreds of thousands.

    This has all been in the works for years… but, the big difference is now “insiders” and big names willing to go “on the record” with their first hand knowledge, recollections, and/or evidence in hand… of what was really going on at NOP. I often wondered why folks who have left NOP and Alberto in the past 10-20 years…and there are several of those… didn’t say something…if anything bad was really going on. That kind of goes against the grain of human nature, doesn’t it. That gave me hope that maybe everything was ok after all.

    But, I sadly believe this to be just the tip of the iceberg and expect more witnesses to be coming forth soon now that Steve, Kara, and Adam both went to USADA much earlier and now went on TV with their first hand accounts. That’s human nature, too, just like in the classrooms of our youth… when it took a couple hands going up from a brave child or two before more students got up the guts to ask a question of the teacher. Most people are afraid to be a true “front runner” or risk-taker in life.

    This should not be left up to USATF to investigate…. we all remember the “Protest/Wrong DQ Controversy in ALBQE” and how long it took USATF to respond appropriately and how they never did address all the issues involved to include Alberto’s breaking of their own rules in regards to an appeal. They just wanted to sweep it under the rug and hope that it went away. Plus, the conflict of interest inherent with Nike’s position as major sponsor of USATF. That cannot be allowed to happen again… not with something this important to the integrity of our sport and our American T & F team/system. USADA or WADA needs to head this up… or even the US Justice Dept/FBI…. don’t laugh…. look at FIFA right now! I doubt that the whole mess there would be unraveling if national legal authorities did not get involved. And, I am not sure that the same thing with bribes did not happen with Qatar getting the World T & F Champs over Eugene… so watch out for IAAF being investigated for their WC site award as well. We know there have been stories of corruption in IAAF surfacing for over a year now.

    Finally, Toni, I was friends with Alberto and his wife back in the ’70’s and 80’s just like you. We were contemporaries. I remember and love that Alberto Salazar. He was a runner/racer with both guts and heart. I hope that some of this can be explained away when all the facts are uncovered. But, if any of this is true…. there needs to be serious consequences. One of the things that bothers me most is the picture of Galen’s lab tests that Magness provided that appear to indicate that Galen was taking both testosterone and prednisone for performance enhancement as a 16 year old HS student-athlete under Alberto’s supervision. If that is evenly remotely true… then some serious stuff needs to happen. I cannot abide by that…and I think that is one angle that may bring in the legal authorities rather than sports authorities to investigate… unless the statute of limitations applies. Only time will tell… but I will be surprised if this does not get bigger before it gets smaller.

  8. Also, Toni, the first time that a loop type marathon course was instituted in a US Olympic Trials, to the best of my memory, was right here in your old home town of St. Louis… during the 2004 US Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials held in Forest Park. Ironically, NBC turned down the chance to televise it at the last minute and I worked on the broadcast coverage provided by the local NBC affiliate. It does make it better for TV… and it also makes it more spectator friendly. I don’t think that approx. 6 mile loops makes it particularly boring for the participants. Thanks for sharing the new LA Marathon Trials course map.

  9. Everyone’s in agreement that drugs are a problem. They’re a problem in sports and they’re a problem in society in general. People have suggested, which at first glance seems logical, that the penalties for doping should be much stricter. A lifetime ban for the first offense. Yes, that sounds great on paper, but in real life…well, ask the folks in Texas, who I believe execute more prisoners than any other state, how well capital punishment deters people from committing murder. Even if athletes knew that they would be banned for life the first time they were caught doping, they’d still use PED’s.

    So, maybe a system could be set-up where there would be two classes of athletes: non-dopers and dopers. The classifications would apply across the board: from USATF regional meets to major road races, through world championships and the Olympic games. All athletes have to submit to drug testing prior to competition, not after the event(s), and athletes who declare themselves to be using drugs have to submit a list of the drugs they’re taking.

    Athletes who are using will be allowed to compete but they do so with the understanding that any records they might set, whether they be for running, jumping, throwing…do not count. Prize money, particularly in road racing, does present a problem, though. I suppose that race directors could stop paying appearance fees and expenses for dopers, that might be a disincentive.

    Just throwing ideas out, because as Toni posted earlier: “the sporting world has to know when to say uncle.” All of us can continue to say what has to happen, what needs to happen and what needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean those things are ever going to happen. If people believe that they can be the best in their sport, and they believe that they can get away with using drugs in order to achieve that goal, people are going to continue to do it, there is no stopping it.

      • Not sure what other alternatives there are. People aren’t going to stop taking drugs, they aren’t. We’re living in a fantasy world if we think they are. As I wrote in my earlier post, many many people have problems with drugs. If everyone’s running hero, Pre, hadn’t driven his car while under the influence of alcohol, he would probably still be alive today. Several years ago I read a survey, you and some of your readers and others in the running community probably read it as well, where elite athletes were asked if they could take a drug that would guarantee them a gold medal at their sport, would they take it, knowing that by taking said drug they would die within five years. I don’t remember now, I hope you or someone else does, what the exact percentage was who responded “yes”, but I’m sure it was well over fifty. We humans are fascinating creatures, we’re capable of achieving great monumental things and we’re also capable of engaging in reckless and foolish behavior that, in the long run (no pun intended) is against our own best interests.

    • We do not throw the towel in on this issue, there has to be investigations, and if warranted, consequences. Who wants a coach or another adult able to offer or deliver a controlled substance to anyone, particularly a minor? Not me. Otherwise, impunity is implied. What is to stop a high school drama teacher from giving a student prozac or something else if they are feeling blue? There are controlled substance laws for a reason. Do you really think the FDA will allow banned drugs for the dopers league???

      • America, at least, has turned into a relativist society. Interesting article in NY Post today.

        “Compared to just a few years ago, we have a completely different set of ideas about what constitutes acceptable behavior. As Caitlyn Jenner puts it in her new reality show, “I’m the new normal.”

        http://nypost.com/2015/06/06/how-a-massive-silent-cultural-revolution-has-changed-america/

        “In 1969, the year of “Easy Rider,” support for legal pot stood at 12%. As recently as 2003, it was still only 34%. But in the last two Gallup polls on the subject, in 2013 and 2014, support hit an outright majority for the first time.

        And yet only 7% told Gallup in 2013 that they themselves currently take marijuana.”

        Are the same relativist attitudes starting to permeate the world of PEDs in sport? Certainly, adult tolerance or complicity in youth PED use is beyond the pale. But sport is always a part of the larger societal movements.

  10. Yes, you’re right Toni that we’re becoming a relativist society. I agree with you and Ken and Craig and everyone else posting on this board that if it’s true that Salazar did give Rupp testosterone when he was a teenager, then he should be severely punished, as should the doctor who was prescribing the prescription-only drug(s). As far as the FDA approving banned drugs for the “dopers league”: obviously the drugs would no longer be on the banned list. I’m presuming, Ken, that you meant drugs banned by the IAAF? My point still is that as a society we have a huge problem, a monumental problem with drug use, and I don’t see that our efforts to stop it are doing any good.

    My brother is a grade-school teacher in Green Bay, WI. Because of budget cut-backs there aren’t school nurses on site everyday like there used to be, but a nurse does come in on a regular basis to give the kids, the majority of them by the way, their ADD/ADHD meds. I’ve read several articles lately in the NYT about college kids who are taking the same drugs on a routine basis so they can get through finals. And then once they’ve graduated and started working at their first job, they continue to take the drugs because the pressure on them to succeed and get ahead is more than they can handle without benefit of medication.

    How long has the “War on Drugs” been going on? Thirty plus years now? What results have we seen? The US has more people incarcerated per capita than any other nation in the world, the majority of the prisoners in jail because of a drug-related crime. New street drugs are popping up everywhere. Children as young as seven (my nephew being one of them until my brother took him to a new doctor) being given medication to keep them calm (I mean why would we want them to behave like children?) Drug companies encouraging physicians to prescribe expensive drugs for conditions that by either using a less expensive drug, or a completely different protocol would result in better outcomes. Seniors being prescribed drugs like sleeping aids, despite the fact that research shows that the medication not only loses its effectiveness after a few weeks, but can cause severe insomnia and is dangerous to adults over the age of 65.

    I certainly don’t know what the answer is. I suggested the idea of having two classes of athletes: the clean and the dirty as one potential way of perhaps dealing with the mess. Maybe, I reasoned, dopers would be shamed if they had to reveal their drug use and if they thought that their times wouldn’t count, they’d stop using. It’s very disheartening that we even have to have this discussion.

    All that said: I want to make it clear that I do not in any way shape of form condone anyone giving a drug to a teenager, for whatever reason. I was talking about the bigger picture, of drugs in sport. But if it turns out to be true that Salazar did what others are saying, which is something I simply can’t wrap my head around, the consequences of his irresponsible, dangerous and illicit actions should be swift, and severe.

    • Do you really think the FDA will allow banned drugs (add: “or uses”) for the dopers league???

      I do not know controlled substance law, but I’m pretty sure intended use matters. After a few deaths the doper league would stop, if it could even get any funding to begin with.

      High schooler Grant Fisher broke 4 minutes in the mile this week. His coach, Mike Scannell, has said that if Grant looks to lack ‘zip’ in his stride he’ll ask him how he’s feeling. If Grant says “no zip coach” Mike cancels the workout. I like that approach.

  11. Okay, Toni, let me throw one more cup of gasoline into the fire…. Blood loading and EPO are illegal and not allowed according to WADA and USADA…..and our NGB’s and Olympic Committees. However, is it not an unfair advantage for those athletes who were born & raised or train at altitude… to “come down” and race at sea level over the other poor guys/gals (like us) who live and train at sea level only? Is it fair that highly subsidized athletes that run for NOP and the Bowerman Club (both Nike clubs with huge budgets) can both afford to go to altitude training camps for weeks at a time …. throughout the year…while other “flatlanders” can’t because of economics, family, or a job? Maybe we should let us “flatlanders” use EPO to “level the playing field” against those athletes who either live at full time or occasionally train at altitude… so that our RBC counts and oxygen carrying blood capacity are approximately the same? We could all be tested the week before a big time competition and only those who test between a certain range will be allowed to compete. Just a thought…. but “fair is fair” now that we appear to have the technology to administer and monitor that aspect of our physiology.

  12. Many interesting comments being made in the media by people I also respect and admire, suggesting that Salazar “needs to defend himself and prove that these allegations are false.” What? That’s not the way it works, at least not in this country. You’re innocent until proven guilty. You don’t have to prove that you did something wrong, or didn’t do something wrong, those who are prosecuting you have to prove that you committed a crime. It’s not unexpected to read all sorts of hyperbolic nastiness on the LetsRun message boards, but when well-respected athletes and former athletes make these kinds of statements it makes me wonder just how much of this might be people thinking “yes, finally…never liked that guy, hope we can make this stick.” Thanks to Amby Burfoot for writing a column a few days ago in which he expressed quite the opposite way of thinking: suggesting that one is in fact innocent, until proven guilty.

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