Suspicious Athletes Led to Coaching Great Alberto Salazar’s Downfall

DOHA, Qatar—Alberto Salazar was so excited about a performance-enhancing supplement he was trying out on his runners, he sent an email to none other than Lance Armstrong.

“Lance, call me asap!” Salazar wrote to the world’s most famous cyclist, who himself was only months away from being banned for life for doping. “We have tested it, and it’s amazing.”

The supplement the track coach was so jazzed about back in 2011 was called L-carnitine, and Salazar was preparing to have it infused into his runners’ systems so it could take effect in time to help them for the upcoming Olympics in London. The entire project was bankrolled and supported by Nike, including an encouraging email from the CEO about the experiments.

Problem was, none of the runners were quite sure what the effects were. More importantly, the athletes on Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project team weren’t always positive about what medications were being given, and how much.

Some athletes expressed their concerns to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, thus sparking a six-year investigation that culminated Tuesday with Salazar, a former marathon champion and America’s pre-eminent distance training coach, receiving a four-year ban from his sport and being kicked out of the track and field world championships in Doha.

“The athletes in these cases found the courage to speak out and ultimately exposed the truth,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said.

USADA released a pair of 100-plus-page decisions by an arbitration panel that delivered the suspensions for both Salazar and Dr. Jeffrey Brown, the endocrinologist who did contract work for NOP and administered the medicine.

The documents, combined with earlier reporting spearheaded by the BBC and ProPublica , paint a picture of a coach and doctor who used athletes, employees and, in one case, even Salazar’s own sons, as guinea pigs to test theories on how supplements and medicine could enhance their performance. The documents also show they went to great lengths to produce falsified and incomplete medical records that made their master plan hard to detect.

Behind it all was the world’s largest sportswear company. Nike wrote the contracts and paid the athletes, making it difficult for them to refuse the direction of their revered coach and his hand-picked doctor.

It “will be interesting to determine the minimal amount of topical male hormone required to create a positive test,” Nike CEO Mark Parker wrote to Brown in an email exchange about an experiment Salazar was conducting on his sons with testosterone gel.

"At the time Alberto was concerned that Nike runners could be sabotaged by someone rubbing testosterone cream on them,” a Nike spokesman said to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “Mark was shocked that this could be the case and given Mark’s passion for running, Dr. Brown and Alberto made Mark aware of their findings. Mark Parker had no reason to believe that the test was outside any rules as a medical doctor was involved. Furthermore, Mark’s understanding was that Alberto was attempting to prevent doping of his athletes.”


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