More than four years since accusations of wrongdoing were made public, Alberto Salazar received a four-year ban from the sport from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), effective immediately, officials announced Monday.
Salazar, 61, head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, based in Portland, Oregon, has guided the careers of some of the world’s most decorated distance runners. Those athlete include Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay, the two fastest U.S. marathoners qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials—both of whom are scheduled to race the Chicago Marathon on October 13. He also coaches Sifan Hassan, who won the world championships 10,000 meters on Sunday in Doha and set a world record in the mile (4:12.33) in July; as well as Clayton Murphy, who is racing the 800-meter world championships final on Tuesday.
U.S.A. Track & Field said in a statement on Tuesday that it has “taken the steps necessary to have Salazar’s IAAF World Championships accreditation deactivated.” In an email to PodiumRunner on Tuesday, a Chicago Marathon spokesperson said, “We have received confirmation that Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay will compete in the 2019 event.”
Salazar’s former athletes include Matthew Centrowitz, gold medalist in the 1500 meters at the 2016 Olympics, who left the Oregon Project in 2018; Mo Farah, a quadruple Olympic gold medalist who left the group in 2017; Dathan Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian who departed the group in 2014 and and testified about his experience during the hearing; and Kara Goucher, two-time Olympian who departed in 2011 and was a whistleblower in the case against Salazar.
None of Salazar’s athletes have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and the charges do not include proof that Salazar has doped any of his athletes. USADA found three violations: trafficking testosterone (a banned substance), tampering with the doping control process, and administering infusions of L-carnitine, a supplement thought to increase energy production from fats, delaying the need to burn glycogen stores. L-carnitine is not a banned substance, but the method by which it was administered to athletes violated anti-doping rules.
Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Houston-based endocrinologist who was paid by Nike as a consultant, worked with Salazar, and treated Oregon Project athletes, also received a four-year ban.
The two men were notified of the violations in 2017, according to the BBC, which first reported the story on Monday. They fought the charges out of the public eye and the case went to arbitration in 2018. The decision was ultimately made by the American Arbitration Association by two independent three-person panels. In its case, USADA relied on 2,000 exhibits, 30 witnesses, and 5,780 pages of transcripts.
“While acting in connection with the Nike Oregon Project, Mr. Salazar and Dr. Brown demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and wellbeing of the athletes they were sworn to protect,” said Travis Tygart, USADA chief executive officer, in a written statement.
Salazar issued a written statement on Monday saying he was shocked by the ruling and vowed to appeal the decision. He also indicated that the USADA investigation has actually been going on for six years, not four.
“Throughout this six-year investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA,” Salazar wrote, in part.
Nike also released a statement on Monday standing behind the coach: “We support Alberto in his decision to appeal and wish him the full measure of due process that the rules require. Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”
The allegations first came to light in 2015, when ProPublica and the BBC published a joint investigation. In it, Goucher, an Oregon Project athlete from 2004–2011, and Steven Magness, a former coach with the group, alleged that Salazar encouraged members to take unprescribed medications to enhance performance. The report also described abuse of the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) system, used by runners who have a documented medical need for prescription drugs that are otherwise banned by anti-doping agencies.
The original report also described circumstances in which Salazar rubbed testosterone gels on his sons to find out how much could be used before causing a positive drug test, which was also described in the arbitration decisions.
As a result of whistleblowing, Magness and Goucher have received a mixture of praise and backlash within the running community. Goucher told Women’s Running via text message on Monday that she wasn’t ready to discuss her former coach’s ban. Magness, who is now a coach to several elite athletes and for the University of Houston, tweeted his reaction.
“Tell the truth. Own your mistakes. Choose the difficult path,” he wrote. “In the short term, it might feel horrible, but over the long haul it’s the only path to take. Speak up, stay true to your convictions. None of us are perfect. But we can all aspire to be better.”
In a wide-ranging phone interview with Women’s Running on Thursday, unrelated to the news of Salazar’s ban but focused on issues related to clean sport, Goucher, 2007 world championships silver medalist in the 10,000 meters, talked about the difficulties in coming forward, though she has always emphasized that she doesn’t regret it.
“What’s the reward for being a whistleblower?” she said. “What’s the reward of coming forward? You’re hated. You’re vilified. You’re made to look like a jealous, crazy person. And then what?”
Although it took several years, the announcement on Monday may have answered some of Goucher’s questions and perhaps offered some vindication.
“The athletes in these cases found the courage to speak out and ultimately exposed the truth,” Tygart said in his statement.