Athletics in the United States has been involved in a potentially painful scandal about the treatment some athletes receive.
Mary Cain, who was a star in her teens, recounted this week the series of physical and emotional abuse she would have suffered in the newly disintegrated Nike Oregon Project. And their versions have encouraged more athletes to do the same.
Amy Yoder Begley, a 10,000-meter runner, said Friday that someone had told her she had "the biggest ass in the starting line." Kara Goucher's husband said that the Olympic athlete had had to endure “disgusting” comments from her coaches.
Cain said the staff, made up exclusively of men, told him that if he wanted to become faster, he should constantly lose weight.
Nike reported investigating the allegations. But the wave of stories came after the project's director, Alberto Salazar, was suspended four years for a doping case. Now, the Oregon Project has drawn attention to the emphasis that their trainers would have placed on weight loss and alleged emotional abuse.
"It's depressing, but at the same time I am encouraged that this message is emerging," said Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, medical director of the women's athlete program at Boston Children's Hospital, yesterday. "Many of these athletes have been really afraid to share their stories."
Questions about Salazar's method with his top athletes in the United States had arisen since years before the US Anti-Doping Agency found him guilty last month of conducting experiments with supplements and testosterone, with the help and support of Nike.
But the story of harassment and abuse that Cain would have suffered when he was part of Salazar's training group has led other former Oregon Project members to share their stories. In 2013, when Cain was 17 years old and was considered an athletic phenomenon, he joined the Salazar project, born in Cuba.
"I suffered emotional and physical abuse by a system designed by Alberto and sponsored by Nike," said Cain, who is now 23, through a video released by The New York Times.
He added that the staff, despite lacking a nutritionist or a certified sports psychologist, pressured her to lose weight. And when he did not fulfill his goals in this matter, he would have been humiliated publicly.
Cain said his menstrual period was interrupted for three years, and that he lost so much bone density that he suffered five fractures. She added that she had begun to hurt herself and had suicidal thoughts before 2016, when she left the program.
Salazar, who has denied any involvement in doping cases, issued a statement yesterday on the case of Cain.
"I never encouraged her or, worse, I embarrassed her, so that she maintained a weight that was not healthy," he said. "Not only did I never do that, but I wouldn't tolerate anyone else on my team doing such a thing."
Through a statement, Nike considered that these "accusations are extremely worrying and have not been raised before by Mary or her parents."
"Mary sought to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto's team on a date as recent as April this year, and had not raised these concerns as part of that process," the sportswear company added.
He said that "he will take the accusations with extreme seriousness and will open an immediate investigation to listen to the athletes of the Oregon Project."
Some of those athletes are already talking.
Shalane Flanagen, four-time Olympic athlete and who retired last month to coach Nike Bowerman Track Club, issued a tweet addressed to Cain.
"I had no idea that this was so bad," said Flanagan, champion of the New York Marathon in 2017 and a runner for years with the Nike team, but who was never part of the Oregon Project. “I am very sorry… I have never approached you when I saw that you had problems. I made excuses to myself about why I should deal with my own affairs. We let you down. I will never turn my face the other way, ”Flanagan said.
Yoder Begley, current coach of the Atlanta Track Club, said she was expelled from the Salazar group after being sixth in the 10,000 meters during the 2011 national championship.
"They told me I was too fat and that I had‘ the biggest ass in the starting line. " This brings back those painful memories, ”said Begley, who competed in the 2008 Olympic Games.
Ackerman, the sports medicine specialist, has asked Nike to fund research on healthy workouts, in the same way that the NFL has begun to allocate money for studies on concussions.
"There are too many great opportunities for Nike to be a leader in this," he said.