As an athlete Alberto Salazar was willing to delve more deeply into the dark raging corridors within than any athlete I ever encountered.  That do-or-die spirit is what elevated Al to iconic status as a runner, but it also brought him to the edge of the abyss. Twice he ran himself to the precipice of a serious medical crisis, once at the Falmouth Road Race 1978 (hyperthermia), again at the 1982 Boston Marathon (hypothermia).

Now, with the release of a 269-page interim USADA report on the Nike Oregon Project and its coach by Russian hackers, we find Coach Salazar’s intense drive to succeed once again putting him on the edge between fair and foul, not only in the court of sport, but in the court of public opinion.  

According to the Sunday Times, to whom the report was leaked, the USADA investigation into Alberto’s practices alleges “substantial and compelling” evidence that Salazar and Houston endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown colluded to use prescription medications “in sometimes potentially unlawful” ways to boost performance involving seven Nike Oregon Project athletes.  At the same time, the report is a year old, and though other questionable practices were listed in the interim report, no subsequent public announcements or accusations have come out officially from USADA – though they have confirmed the legitimacy of the leaked document.

But like the Trump administration focusing solely on the leaks rather than the fact of a connection between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officers before the November election, Coach Salazar’s focus on the leak rather than the actual allegations listed in the USADA report masks a disquieting avoidance to address the central issues it contained.

“The leaking of information and the litigation of false allegations in the press, is disturbing, desperate and a denial of due process,” Alberto emailed the Oregonian’s Ken Goe.

There is an old Carl Sandburg quote: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Sunday, Salazar’s star athlete, four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah, felt compelled to tweet his denial of wrongdoing upon release of the Sunday Times story.

“It’s deeply frustrating that I’m having to make an announcement on this subject. I am a clean athlete who has never broken the rules in regards to substances, methods or dosages and it is upsetting that some parts of the media, despite the clear facts, continue to try to associate me with allegations of drug misuse.”

But who, indeed, has the ‘clear facts’?

And now, here we are heading toward Galen Rupp‘s highly anticipated debut at the Boston Marathon this April, a race his coach so memorably won in 1982 after growing up in nearby Wayland, Massachusetts.  Yet the story that will greet athlete and coach when they arrive in town will be about the charges contained in the USADA report rather than Galen’s hopes and fitness for the big race.

Sports were once considered adjuncts to classroom studies.  But they eventually became a big business tail that wagged the educational dog on many college campuses.  Today, the gap between the letter of performance enhancing drug prohibition and the spirit with which it is followed has been split wide open.

When a drug or supplement is said to be “banned”, is it the intention of that prohibition for athletes and coaches to find ways around it by staying as close to the ceiling of use as possible, or perhaps combining that supplement with another that together creates an outcome that the single supplement wouldn’t while still adhering to the strict letter of the law, yet transgressing on the spirit, which is to maintain a level playing field?

Yet that spirit is constantly shape-shifting. Remember how English sprinter Harold Abrahams was excoriated for hiring Sam Mussabini, a professional coach, to train him for the 1924 Olympics in Paris? That story was memorably told in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire.  In the amateur era it was considered untoward to utilize a pro coach, or even to train full-time as a primary goal.

Nowadays, with sport having entered the professional realm, the fine line between the letter and spirit of the law has been stretched to the breaking point as athletes and their coaches search for every advantage in the drive to elevate performance. And just wait till gene therapy gets going. We think the waters are murky now?

This will never end, not as long as men strive and prizes and glory are valued. Look no further than the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whose competitive fire burns as brightly as any modern-day athlete.  But there can be a dark side to every silver lining.

There are many football fans outside New England who will always discount the Patriots’ five Super Bowl successes as having been achieved by crossing ethical lines – Spy Gate & Deflate Gate – regardless of how real or advantageous those perceived transgressions might have actually been.

Now it seems equally true that even if Alberto Salazar’s extreme coaching methods with NOP are eventually exonerated as falling within the letter of the law, a public indictment against their spirit has already been handed up as a true bill. And that is the kind of indictment no subsequent appeal can fully erase.

Looking back, one would have to wonder, true, untrue, or somewhere in the shade between, was such a protocol worth it in the long run?



  1. I see that my old friend Bob Wiley, aka “Pappasan,” is off his meds again. Craig, we had a nice chat this afternoon. I’ll call you on Monday and tell you all about “Bob,” who’s a bit out of sorts, as you can see. Pay no attention to his meandering madness.

  2. In my opinion, all of these opinions are justified and defensible. And that’s the problem. We’ve all been screwed in our support and admiration of far too many athletes and performances. At this point you’d have to be a fool to accept things at face value. The problem comes when we call out a performance or athlete who has not been found guilty. But again, we’ve seen it all before: Marion, Lance, Russians, East Germans, and on it goes. None of us wants to falsely accuse anyone. But to not have doubts?

    It seems too easy to avoid detection, subvert the system, etc. and reap the benefits. So the only solution I see is the unforgiving, brutal approach: far more serious testing, with a lifetime un-appealable ban for first offense. Hey, its only running, jumping, and throwing, so its not like this really ruins someone’s life. In fact they can become better people as a result of the punishment. And lets not forget that cheating often significantly adversely and permanently affects others lives (and their families).

    I do believe that it is undeniable that Alberto is (legally) gaming the system as best he (and Nike) can. Yes, its probably all legal. (For example, just find a doctor willing to write the prescription. Or do we believe that all doctors are, miraculously, above reproach?) But it is not, in my and many others opinion, in the spirit of the sport, and may not always be strictly legal. Do we truly know?

    Ultimately what continues to confuse me is why everyone involved is not jumping up and down screaming, demanding that the sport they love, have dedicated their lives to, is the source of their livelihoods, and supports their families, be clearly and openly above reproach. Given the history of the sport, failing to do so fully justifies suspicion. So Bob Riley, it is great that you can provide a reasonable defense of Salazar et al. And most of us want to believe it, too. But in my opinion it is not reasonable for you to fail to understand, appreciate, and even support the reasonable doubts of reasonable people. So to truly support Galen, Alberto, and all involved, I would encourage you to be one of those demanding meaningful change.

  3. Wow. Toni, Craig,

    I gotta hand it to ya both. Excellent job trying to make your answers sound politically correct and diplomatic. But you’ve failed. When you say “but I just want justice done…and sooner than later,” it’s actually quite clear what you two are getting at. You’re beating around the bush but too scared to say it.

    What “justice” do you want, exactly? Do you want Galen to be burned at the stake? Or just stripped of his medals? Please tell us, because we are tired of your and Toni’s euphemistic language.

    Answer me this question: With the EVIDENCE that we have right now at this point in time, not any evidence that we’re waiting on, but from what we know RIGHT NOW, do you think they CHEATED?

    YES or NO?

    The funny thing is, I already know your response. You’ll both dodge my question and say “it’s too early to tell. We need more data.” blah blah blah. This situation is ironic because both of you condemn the “gray area” that they’ve been operating in, but neither of you are willing to take a strong stance either way. You’re too scared to say it’s black or white. Cheated vs. Clean. You do believe in right and wrong, don’t you? That’s why you both wrote your articles and your facebook posts, because you believe there should be rules, right?

    No, you sir are what’s eroding the integrity of this sport. How can people believe in anything positive in life or have heroes, if we are taught to doubt every stellar performance? Perhaps we should doubt your running times, Craig? What drugs were you on when you ran 13:50 in 1972? In fact, come to think of it, how can we trust you if we know that back in 1972 we didn’t have the same testing technology and systems in place as we do today to detect even the slightest levels of illegal substances in your blood? How can we trust you when things like doping weren’t really even on the public’s radar back then, making it easier for you to get away with it?

    You see? It doesn’t feel good when people question your achievements in life, now does it? Especially the achievements that you worked hard for, that you know in your gut that you earned in the right way. I’m simply using the same questions that you used in your facebook post after Galen’s 2-mile record.

    Again, this is where you’ll hide behind your political correctness and say “well, ha, I didn’t technically say he ‘cheated'” with a smile on your face.

    Honestly, I would respect both of you more if you answered that question sincerely, and provided reasons why. You would say “yeah, I think Galen cheated and here’s why.” Then we’d be having a discussion. But this garbage of implying things when you post on facebook or writing this article how the “spirit” of the law is being broken, even though you admit that they still might be playing within the rules, within the letter of the law, is what creates a lot of tension among readers, and division among us runners. It’s like the coworker who starts a rumor. They say “hey, I think Jill and Jack are having an affair.” The other coworker says: “How do you know? What did you see?” Coworker 1 replies: “Well I saw them go to lunch together and they were gone a long time before they came back.” “Ohhhh, now that you mention it,” Coworker 2 replies, “you might be right.” And then the rumor spreads. And since we’re a small community anyway, (it’s not like we are in a popular sport like football), we’re becoming even more suspicious and critical of our best runners. If they run a fast time? Cheater. If they release information about their medications. Still, Cheater.

    Craig, and Toni, you listen up here too, I just re-read your facebook post:

    “Congrats are due but I’m not sure what to think… both Galen and his coach, Alberto Salazar, are definitely making a statement here! Why do this kind of workout after such a hard race…and risk injury or illness? What is Galen TAKING or doing… that is giving him such amazing recuperative/restorative powers? I have never seen anything like this…but he did it after his AR 13:01 5K last weekend and after his 3:50.9 mile indoors last January. I am sorry to sound so jaded… but after reading so much about Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez’s sophisticated and undetected DOPING schemes this past year …. I just don’t know what to believe anymore. I wish USATF would release what THERAPEUTIC USE EXEMPTION medical treatments that Galen is on that may give us one hint of what is really going on here. I am tired of rumors about TUE’s and we need some transparency in this area to maintain the integrity in our sport.”

    It is a fantastic opportunity to re-visit that post. You know why? Because we now know what Galen’s TUES are. They have been released. Which brings me to my original, central question to you and Toni: with the evidence we do have, do you think Galen CHEATED?

    Have either of you ever seen the movie “Finding Forrester”?

    You remember that scene where the two professors are talking about how Jamal the black kid from the bronx ALLEGEDLY had been cheating on his writing assignments, but in reality he wasn’t?

    Professor 1: Have you considered he might just be that good?

    Professor 2: Not this good.

    How did that movie end?

    I wish I could be poetic and end on that last question, but I just need to repeat that what you guys are doing by IMPLYING that they cheated and not actually coming out and saying it is wrong. Please tell all of us what you truly think. Seriously. You’ll feel better when you do.

    For me, I believe they are clean. From what I’ve read, and what I’ve seen, as a rational person looking at the facts, the evidence simply isn’t there fellas. Galen ran 13:37 in HIGH SCHOOL; it’s not unreasonable to see a steady improvement over time, with any runner for that matter. It’s the unexpected jumps in performance where we say, “hm, yeah that guy is cheating.” Take Rashid Ramzi for example. Dude was relatively unknown before the olympics and then blasted to the front of elite runners, beating Asbel Kiprop in the 1500 meters. That was unexpected. But Galen? Who has been running below 14:00 for 5k in high school? Really? You’re telling me that he somehow magically jumped to stardom in 2014? At age 30? He’s been running since 2000. That’s 17 years of pure, 100% dedication. What is so ironic about your guys’ disbelief is that we runners are known for being delayed gratifiers…meaning we all know it takes years of training and hard work to get good. Yet both of you forget that Galen has been training his heart out for over 15 years! If that’s not literally a perfect, real-world example of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, then I don’t know what is.

    What is the answer to this debate? Is it your claim, that there’s this complicated scheme going on and a massive cover up, involving hundreds if not thousands of people?

    Or is the answer a littler simpler?

    Sometimes “the simplest answer is the most likely.” Galen is simply a great runner. Alberto is simply a great coach.

    1. Bob,

      Thanks for your long and impassioned response. It adds valuable balance to the discussion, and forces everyone to take measure of their positions once again.

      Here’s the thing, though. You’re correct that I have planted myself in the not-yes, not-no center. But that’s because it’s where we are at present, and will he until USADA completes its investigation and releases any definitive findings.

      Isn’t a person allowed to be conflicted about an issue?

      You are absolutely right, Occam’s razor cuts to the heart of such matters, among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Therefore, what we see might be nothing more than what it is, Al’s coaching and his athletes might be just that good. And it’s not like they have all been successful. Look at Mary Cain.

      Crag Virgin speaks well enough for himself, so I will only speak for myself.

      I go back a long way with both Al and Craig, two of the toughest runners I ever covered. Both trained incredibly hard, and paid a price for it. I remember Al struggling to return to form after his 1982 NYC Marathon win over Rudolfo Gomez (the famous cloud-of-dust race). That’s when he began battling with systemic health issues, as his body wouldn’t bounce back, and he took up the search for ways to find the form of old.

      The same intensity that brought him to the top of the sport is also what shortened his career. But the lessons he learned in his own career informed his coaching of others, most notably Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. That seemingly included the use of supplements and meds to offset the wear and tear of hard training.

      The question that USADA is now trying to answer is whether those lessons and their applications today rest on one side of the line or the other.

      My heart is in one place, but I resist the urge to move off the mid-stripe until USADA draws whatever new line it may.

      Besides, the main point of my article is that it’s because USADA has taken so long to complete this case – due in part to a lack of cooperation – that, along with the drip, drip of suggestive leaks, and the increasing cynicism of the public, the presumption of innocence has been lost in the process. That’s where the law-spirit divide comes into play.

      Were Trump campaign people guilty of collusion with the Russian government in trying to sway the 2016 election? Or were any meetings innocent and merely introductory in nature? We don’t know. That’s why there is an investigation there, too. And while it goes on some people are politically drawn toward one belief, some to the other. And leaks drip, drip , drip. No different in the Salazar/NOP case.

      We aren’t there yet in either case. And that doesn’t just hurt Alberto and Galen, it continues to damage the sport.

      Would it be helpful for NOP to release all its pertinent medical records to USADA investigators? Yes, just as it would be helpful for President Trump to release his tax records to relevant congressional committees. But as of this moment neither seems so inclined, and no jurisdictional body has made such information obligatory. And so that’s where we find ourselves.

      In any event, thanks for making us think things through once again.


    2. Thanks, Bob, or whoever you truly are.

      I welcome your entry into this discussion…as well as your own perspective. Toni’s blog is recognized nationally as being a great forum for intelligent and provocative discussion about the issues of our sport. And, the current USADA investigation of the Nike Oregon Project coach and athletes is certainly at the leading edge of “one of the issues in our sport” at least recently. There are certainly plenty of evidence and facts that usage of PED’s is rampant and systemic in Russia this past decade and we now also know that PED usage has not been screened for very much and in “out of competition testing” in East Africa but specifically in Kenya and Ethiopia… where so many good distance runners come from nowadays.

      USADA or WADA does not take on investigations like the NOP controversy just to keep themselves busy… the allegations must be serious and at least somewhat substantiated for them to waste their precious time and resources on. Six months ago, I was wondering if they had just quietly dropped it… for whatever reason. But, the released (hacked) USADA communication/report to the Texas Medical Board involving the Dr. Brown investigation directly (and the NOP investigation indirectly)….has shed some light that they are still aggressively pursuing this case….and it just keeps getting deeper and more serious each month. This is nothing to scoff at….

      Now, this morning we read from the UK media that USADA has recently requested samples of Mo Farah’s urine or blood from the UKADA to retest….and, if true, they wouldn’t be doing that unless they had strong evidence that would lead them to be looking for something specific. This request is a bit unusual and irregular. Does USADA possess testing technology that is much more sophisticated than UKADA? Is there a trust/credibility issue involving the UK testing of one of the biggest sports heroes/legends in the UK? I know I’m glad that USATF is not in charge of our own US investigations! A lot of leaks over there….maybe even rivaling Washington, D.C. right now !?! I honestly don’t know what I am gonna wake up to each morning anymore… but it certainly makes life interesting!

      Let’s address some of your concerns:

      1) I cannot speak for Toni… but I do personally recognize that there is right and wrong… and that there is also white, black, and “grey”…and always has been. I also stand by my description as “50 Shades of Grey” as it is an apt description of some of the performance enhancements that are going on out there…. possibly to include “micro dosing” and “self monitoring” of PED’s to allow usage right up to (or just under) the “threshold” of allowable blood/urine values. I have heard from 3 different people that there is a laboratory and technicians for “blood and urine and other testing” on Nike’s corporate campus easily accessible to where both NOP and BTC train/base. I can see both “positives and negatives” if this truly exists. It could be used for good purposes…as well as nefarious purposes.

      And, I am also 100% sure that there is research and studies going on right now by less than scrupulous people on identifying ways to “game the system” or to evade detection of PED usage. How else did Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones test “negative” through all those hundreds of tests that they were subjected to… when we now know that they were both doing very sophisticated programs of illegal performance enhancing supplementation…. to good result! Lance may have admitted fault… but I have noticed that he has never revealed “how he did it!”

      Another observation is we all know that Nike sponsored both Lance Armstrong and Alberto Salazar as well as NOP… and that Alberto played a huge role in designing and implementing training for Lance when Lance decided to take a break from cycling to train for and race the marathon. You have a lot of time to talk when you are training for the marathon. You don’t think they shared conversations or “shop talk” about how to train or perform better? Via any method possible? For several years… right at a critical time in the NOP evolution? This might just be a coincidence… or maybe not… be the judge…. but it is a salient fact and part of the time line that I’m sure USADA is following in their investigation. The hacked USADA report even includes a captured text or email communication from Alberto to Lance extolling him to get back to him ASAP as “this stuff really does work!..” or something to that effect.

      2) Yes, “Bob”, I often am thankful that I was not competing in this era because of the tough decisions I would have had to make…and all the crap that one endures now from “online gossip and innuendo or accusations”… if successful…..because we really do live in the “immediate digital information age” nowadays…. for better or worse. Yes, I have often thought of my early career in H.S. or college… which was every bit as good as Galen’s…. (and sometimes faster)…..and what might have been made of that nowadays. I ran 8:57 and 4:19 as a 15 year old sophomore, 8:51, 4:09, and 4:11 as a 16 year old junior, and 8:40, 4:05, and 13:58 as a 17 year old senior… plus the 13:50 3-mile X-C State Meet course record you mentioned….that still stands and has withstood both Derrick’s and Verzbicus’s and Davis’s assaults in recent years.

      But, I can tell you that my training in tiny Lebanon, IL was naïve and innocent compared to what Alberto and Galen employed. We didn’t even have a track.. indoors or outdoors to train on…. much less a fancy weight room to do strength work in. The only thing remotely resembling PED usage was me taking Vitamin E supplements or putting crappy tasting wheat germ on my cereal in the morning based on a scientific study conducted up at the U. of Illinois. Hey, I wasn’t even drinking coffee daily back then! And, my weight training consisted of lifting bales of hay and sacks of feed or seed as well as manual labor on the farm. Alberto and Galen would have laughed at what I did…. but it did yield decent results… you have to admit. You can’t refute the numbers… even 40+ years later! Like Galen… it involved a lot of hard work!

      So, I have sympathy for all successful athletes nowadays…as the “age of innocence” is long done. But, you will never find a blood test result in my file…like Steve Magness found of Galen’s a few years back… that basically proves that Galen was either taking testosterone or a testosterone precursor supplement (remember andro and Mark McGwire back in 1998?)… as a H.S. junior! I double checked with Magness yesterday to confirm that this test report did exist and the photos of the documents were turned over to USADA. So, evidence does exist out there… bring that HS 13:37 into question! You are also correct when you state that Galen did appear to improve steadily over the years… there was no “huge jump” until 2009 to the present. This is when my own questions started. There is also another NOP athlete and athletic accomplishment back in 2009 that has bothered me for quite some time…as it defied logic and common sense and long years of running/racing experience….but has mainly flown under the radar so far. I have not mentioned it before now… but I’m sure it will come under scrutiny more if there is a finding of guilt by USADA on NOP. I’ll leave you guess on that one.

      3) I believe you are paraphrasing my FB post somewhat but I do stand by the gist of my rhetorical question on that post. Do you contest that the amazing 1600 m. interval workout just 15 minutes after his AR 8:07 2-mile was not mind boggling? He did it on a treadmill after the 3:51? mile the year before and after the 5K AR just a week or two earlier. His performance in only his first 2-4 races of the season…and his almost supernatural recovery powers in his post race workouts… did raise questions and concerns in anybody’s mind that knows anything about the sport. It certainly deserved praise and congratulations (which I did in that post) but also raised serious questions as well…and still does today.

      4) I am not claiming that there is a massive cover up involving hundred or thousands of people…. but there certainly is some concern that there may be illegal or unethical behavior going on there at NOP….as testified to USADA by several athletes that are or were involved in Portland….that have resulted in the USADA conducting this extensive investigation….and if there is any “cover up” involved….it would probably be by only a few people… and possibly the sponsors…..only the USADA will be able to determine the final word on that. They have all the evidence/testimony while I do not.

      5) It is not up to me or Toni to render a final verdict on this investigation. That is up to the USADA…as they are the only ones in possession of all the “facts” and interview results and uncovered evidence. But, we have seen recently (through leaks) some insights into the probe and some of what they have uncovered or found. Certain legal requests they have made also can result in inferences….and to keep one’s head in the sand through all this is rather naïve and ignorant….but in the end…. we all will have to wait for the final ruling by USADA or maybe WADA or eventually CAS.

      The investigation has been drawn out now for almost 2 years or more…. for a variety of reasons. I said above that I suspected that one reason that the USADA has not ruled sooner has been the evasive maneuvering that the endocrinologist in Houston has done to avoid being deposed under oath or to release patient records of NOP athletes presently in his possession.

      You can judge for yourself what this legal but evasive maneuvering might mean. But, it certainly has really drawn out this whole process…. and it is now certainly not necessarily “fair” to either the coaches, athletes, or sport involved. I do feel that everyone will benefit from a “conclusion” to this long investigation… long as it is “fair and accurate”…..and “justice being done… sooner than later.” It just hurts everyone more… if this is not concluded sometime in 2017. If I was in USADA’s shoes… I would have to make sure than everything is “done right” and that all “i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed” and every possible angle has been checked and then rechecked… for accuracy. I’m sure that has lengthened the process as well.

      Because so much is at stake here…. for everyone. If they find Alberto/NOP and all athletes involved 100% innocent…. then think of all the damage that has been done to them over the past 2-5 years….almost irreparable damage….to their reputations and character? If they are found guilty…. then think of all the ramifications to the coaches and celebrity athletes and sponsors….as well as the sport involved? Think of all the championships results and Olympic results and records and inaccurate prize money … that would be affected… it is mind boggling! USADA has to be very careful… with every step…. because so much is at stake here …and really there will be no “winners” here… other than the athletes who are clean and doing it straight… but who have been overshadowed in the process by any potential cheating…. whether it be of the blatant kind…. or simply “50 Shades of Grey!”

  4. Thanks for having a fair and honest venue for reasonable and thoughtful discussion about sensitive areas of our sport (and sometimes politics), Toni. My feelings after reading everything… and based on my own insights/experience…. is that getting the good doctor down in Houston under sworn deposition as well as getting the long withheld medical records reviewed will help USADA make a much more accurate and quicker ruling on this controversy. The fact that the doctor has fought this “tooth and nail” with every legal stalling tactic that he (or his financial backers) could afford…does not look good from my point of view…..because if someone has “nothing to hide” …. then why “hide” and not just be forthright and honest about the topic to the appropriate folks. The fact that this involves HIPPA and medical privacy issues does make it more complicated… but if the involved athletes want to get cleared quickly… then they need to be as open and forthright as they can be… as it will only benefit them…. if innocent. The fact that the Texas Medical Board is involved in this investigation since last year…. means that this Houston doctor and his medical license/reputation…is in serious jeopardy and has a lot more at stake than just a “bad rap” on the front page or their message boards! As you confirmed…. this situation involving an old friend and colleague is disturbing to both of us…. but I just want “justice done… and sooner than later” for all concerned. I appreciate all the comments above. Some pretty notable people in our sport…read this blog, apparently.

  5. Well, Toni, it was interesting for you to finally enter the journalistic fray now on this particular subject matter… but given all that is now exploding after “cooking” for almost 2 years….. it really is hard to stay neutral forever. I feel the same conflict that you do…. as both of us were friends with Alberto Salazar “back in the day” and totally respected him as both a gutty and dedicated athlete as well as a good and decent man. But, I admittedly don’t really know Alberto well this last 20-25 years…and especially since his health issues and cardio events. Aging, health trauma, and life experience can certainly alter all of us over time.

    I watched Alberto jump into coaching after his own athletic pursuits were over sometime back in the early to mid 90’s. Like all coaches, he had success with some, failure with others, and did “alright” with the rest. Only he and the athletes really know if they reached their full potential as both athletes and persons…..which is the end goal of all coaches. I always knew Alberto to be ambitious and fearless and aggressive as an athlete and did not expect any different as a coach. I greatly respected him for that. We all did. He showed us back in the late 70’s and 80’s that he was willing to try almost anything to improve as an athlete and create the “slightest edge.” Most of it usually involved incredibly hard training but there were gadgets and locations that made us pause and smile….. So, I expected no different when he started coaching for Nike.

    However, there is white, black, and grey…. in terms of rules, regulations, and ethics … in sport as in life. I have no doubt that Alberto is now operating alot in the grey… and maybe even “50 shades of grey” at that. Microdosing to just under the legal limits is one popular suspicion/theory. But, when I saw the Steve Magness photo of the blood test report from Galen Rupp back in high school which indicated that Alberto had Galen on either testosterone or a testosterone “precursor”…. as a high schooler… then that to me is going “deep into the black” of coaching ethics. I asked myself “if he was doing that back then… with an athlete in high school… then what lengths will he go to now with an athlete that is a post-collegiate professional?” And, I don’t know the answer to that question…. but from all the stuff that is being exposed now (and over the past 2+ years) then there is a lot of truly legitimate questions that need to be answered and made totally transparent by Alberto and his top athletes as well as his coaching support staff and medical pit crew.

    I had no questions whatsoever about Galen Rupp and his ultra successful athletic progress until after 2008 and then things started to happen that began to violate my common sense and years of experience. Same with a few other athletes in the NOP. In fact, I got into big trouble 2-3 years ago with a rhetorical question that I asked about Galen on a FB post congratulating him on his 8:07 new AR in the 2-mile but then wondering in amazement about his 4-5 x1600 meter interval session just 15 minutes after the race where he started out at approx. 4:20 and finished in approx. 4:02 or so. I wondered aloud what Galen was “doing or taking…. to be able to race/train like this… and whether it truly was healthy or good for him in the long run?” After watching the Olympic T & F Trials and Games of 2012 and in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials and Rio Olympic Games … I continue to ask the same questions. No doubt that Galen is a fantastically gifted athlete. We are all proud to have Americans do so well, but we also just want to make sure it is being done in “the right way.” Sadly, we now know that this has not always been the case over the last 30-50 years of US athletic history..

    I had really hoped that the USADA investigation that started in the spring of 2015 would be completed before the Olympic Trials and Olympic Games of 2016 but that failed to happen. Now, I truly hope that we can get a thorough and fair investigation and ruling before 2017 is over…and hopefully before the World Championships at London in August… but I am not holding my breath. Now, I believe that USADA has been stalled out by Alberto’s team doctor in Houston resisting/stalling his requested deposition under oath…. and the resisting/stalling of USADA also getting key individual athlete medical records that they requested to evaluate/compare against.

    The release of an internal report from USADA to the Texas Medical Review Board by the Russian Hacking group is certainly shocking and provocative. It shows what direction USADA might be leaning if they can just get a few more layers of circumstantial evidence that all collaborates each other… much like they tried to do with the Lance Armstrong case when they did not have a “smoking gun” to work with. Really, to be fair to Alberto and the athletes involved….and to the sport and the other athletes impacted…. this investigation really needs to get wrapped up and a finding released… sooner than later in 2017. It’s not fair for the reputations of all to be drug through this muck if they really are innocent… but it also destroys the integrity of our sport and key championship events if they continue to compete while guilty. Is the Nike Oregon Project …. white, black, or 50 Shades of Grey? USADA, please decide….and decide soon!

    1. Craig,

      You have given a great deal of thought to the issue, and it reflects your long and storied career in the sport. As you say, this has always been a difficult story to address given the long friendly relationship we have had with Alberto, mine going back to our days in Boston, and knowing his family, yours involving such intense competition. And I am not yet willing to fully abandon him, Galen, Shannon, or the other athletes in NOP, knowing their backgrounds, educations and such. But I also recognize that I am increasingly on the other side of the line in this regard from the majority opinion.

      The fact that USADA has not been able to come to a final judgement only hangs the sport out to dry in the public eye, and as I wrote in the story, allows the grey area assumptions to seep deeper and deeper into the public consciousness, making it all but impossible to wipe the stain clean even if a positive outcome eventuates. I can already hear, “cover up!”, being shouted far and wide.

      We have long-since entered the damned if you do, damned if you don’t arena. The sport seems permanently tainted. I have no idea what the way forward should look like, but it sure doesn’t seem like the horizon ahead looks clear and inviting no matter what.

      As always, thanks for contributing to the conversation.


  6. Maybe I’m playing a bit of devil’s advocate, but I just don’t see much here. Of course the broad narrative of ethics is a huge deal, but as far as lambasting a coach for doing all he can, just within the confines of the rules, to bring his elite athletes to the precipice of achievement, seems disingenuous. If my son or daughter has put their ‘career’, life if you will, on hold to pursue this running thing full time, you can bet I ‘d want their coach to use all the tools at his or her disposal to make them as successful as possible. 269 pages & this is all we got? Complete with intercepted emails? What, no wiretapping of phones? I just think in the grand scheme of things, Alberto has transgressed far less than the E Germans et. al. of yesteryear & the Russians of yesterday.

    1. While I agree that what he has allegedly done is on a lesser scale than that of the East Germans or Russians, at the same time I think it’s analogous to being “a little pregnant.”

      Is it “okay” to administer PEDs as long as it is below some arbitrary limit? Is it okay to experiment on athlete’s bodies in ways that may have long-term health consequences? Why isn’t everyone concerned about the legitimacy of TUEs? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Simone Biles and the Williams sisters to get TUEs, but it appears suspect if athletes from countries other than the US are granted them? Why don’t they want their adoring fans to know about it? In the interest of fairness, shouldn’t all athletes be allowed to take the same amount of these substances? Shouldn’t we be concerned about prescription medications being given to athletes who have neither a prescription nor the condition for which they are supposed to be prescribed?

      In summation, is it okay to “only cheat a little”? It’s a slippery slope, and there are many among us who have lost their footing.

  7. The true goal of a law (I believe) is to make the punishment exceed the benefit of breaking it, with the goal of dissuading someone from doing so. Clearly that is nowhere near the case with regard to PEDs in sports (and heck, pretty much in any other area it seems given the big business of prisons). The cynical (and arguably fully justified) view is that the cost of actually doing what it takes to (try to) more effectively eradicate cheating exceeds the benefit. And so the rationale is that “all the other kids are doing it”, and if you don’t, you may as well “move your starting blocks back a meter” (or three). And we fans are so invested in the ability of another person to run faster, throw farther, and jump higher or farther, that anything or anyone that interferes with that becomes the criminal.

    And yes, cheating is criminal behavior, i.e. stealing. If I cheat and win an Olympic gold medal, then someone else didn’t, someone else didn’t make the podium, someone else didn’t make the final (cascade that down through the heats), someone else didn’t make the team, and cascade all that down through the Trials. All of which (presumably) affects the paychecks of those someones.

    Methinks Alberto doth protest too much. And USATF apparently has no incentive (or spine) for doing anything about it.

  8. I have often wondered how the athlete or coach decide to delve into PED use. I suppose there is an assumption that the competition has that edge and to win you need every advantage, legal, ethical or not. It comes down to your own conscience and what’s important to you. In his book the SILENCE of GREAT DISTANCE
    Frank Murphy covers Mary Decker at the 1983 World Championships where her competition in the 1500m and 3000m were the Soviets who most assumed were using PEDS.

    Mary comes out on top in both races and in the book she comes across as very innocent and taking on the Soviet machine. Although I suspected that Mary might be using PEDS as well I still was thrilled that she won and “beat them at their own game”.

    We all need to do what we can to support the athletes who are doing things the “right way” and crushing the others who cheat.

  9. Why bring Tom Brady into this topic? He had nothing to do with SpyGate (that was all Belichick) and “DeflateGate” was a complete joke as the inflation levels were *entirely* explained by the Ideal Gas Law. There is absolutely no equivalency between Brady and Salazar.

    1. Greg M,

      You miss the point. I am not equating the behavior of Brady and Salazar. I am equating people’s perceptions of what constitutes ethical sporting behavior. Having spent a third of my life in Boston I am a Brady and Pats’ fan, and fully accept the Ideal Gas Law as the cause for air pressure differences in game balls. But people who hate Brady and the Pats don’t care about such things, they just believe they cheated, and no evidence will every dissuade them of that opinion. Same with Alberto. I have known him since he was a young man. But even if everything he did was strictly legal, there is a percentage of the population who will always look at him as a transgressor. That has as much to do with peoples’ biases as it does with actual guilt or innocence. That makes sense?


  10. The essence is in your words, Toni – “When a drug or supplement is said to be “banned”, is it the intention of that prohibition for athletes and coaches to find ways around it by staying as close to the ceiling of use as possible, or perhaps combining that supplement with another that together creates an outcome that the single supplement wouldn’t while still adhering to the strict letter of the law, yet transgressing on the spirit, which is to maintain a level playing field?”
    There is the letter of the law and then the ‘grey’ area that you ID and that’s where Ethics must lead. Each and every coach and athlete should develop an ethical framework within which they operate.
    Forty years ago, the British T&F team physician was doing research on L-Glutamine and found that elite athletes were low on this amino acid and so advocated significant supplementation of this to the men and women. But, it was found that large supplementation upset the long-term balance of other essential amino acids and the practice was soon discontinued. But, L-Glutamine is still widely touted today eg:
    So, the current excitement over L-Carnitine, is it another ‘wonder aid to performance’. It is extremely worrying when a reporter from the respected Guardian newspaper wants to ‘drink the Kool-aid’…..…
    Yes, with L-Carnitine there are short-term benefits but what about the long-term effects? There has to be an ethical context for sport and WADA recognized that, around the world, individuals were coming out of exercise physiology/sport science degree programs, having greater influence on sports performance environments but most, with the simplistic mind-set, “Well, if it’s legal and it helps performance, why wouldn’t you use it.” Now, WADA has worked to place a module on ‘Ethics’ in all of these programs so that at least awareness is raised that the scientist, coach and athlete’s (and agents!) ethical stance should be educated and respected.
    Every substance and method on the WADA banned list was at one time legal. The fact that they subsequently become banned illustrates that ‘legality today’ is no guarantee of ethically sound behavior.

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