Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar responds to doping allegations
Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar has issued a 11,736 word response to a recent BBC and Pro Publica report that accused the coach of violating drug rules by providing his athletes banned substances.
"I will never permit doping. Oregon Project athletes must fully comply with the WADA Code and IAAF Rules," Salazar wrote. "At no time do we use science in violation of the WADA Code. We strictly adhere to competition and anti-doping rules at all times. I have not and will not condone any athlete I train using a banned substance and would never encourage any athlete to use a banned substance. We have worked very, very hard to achieve our successes and are proud of our accomplishments."
A report by ProPublica and the BBC, based on testimony by several of Salazar's former athletes and coaches, alleges that he pushed the boundaries on doping rules to gain a competitive advantage by encouraging the use of prescription medication and therapeutic use exemptions.
Rupp, an American who won the silver medal in the 10,000-meter run at the 2012 Olympics, is alleged to have taken the banned anabolic steroid testosterone under the supervision of Salazar since he was 16. (He began training with Salazar at age 15.) He has been among the most tested athletes by the United States Anti-Doping Association over the last few years and has never failed a drug test.
Allegations surround 2012 Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp
Salazar defends his star athlete by disclosing that Rupp suffers from severe allergies and breathing issues. He is also medically diagnosed for suffering from asthma and Hashimotos disease, a thyroid disease.
The report also states that distance runner Kara Goucher, who trained under Salazar from 2004 to 2011, introduced Rupp to the endocrinologist that helped treat his thyroid condition.
Rupp provided over 500 pages of medical records dating back to 2001 to USADA to show each time he was prescribed prednisone, a corticosteroid, to treat his asthma flare ups. Salazar says the claims that Rupp was on prednisone since he was 15 are "absolutely false." He does not explain why Rupp submitted those medical records to USADA.
Rupp has reportedly been issued two therapeutic use exemptions for prednisone since 2010 and none since February 2012. Salazar says he has never coached Rupp to receive a TUE.
The Oregon Project has been granted four TUEs since 2011 for its athletes. Of the nine current members in the Oregon Project, six have never used a TUE since 2011.
Oregon Project thyroid and asthma medication use
Alberto Salazar says he has never pushed any of his athletes to take any thyroid or asthma medications. Of 55 athletes that he has coached, only five have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism after joining his training group. In 2013, Salazar told The Wall Street Journal that five of 30 athletes were diagnosed. He does not disclose how many athletes are on asthma medication when they joined the group. Canadian distance runner and current Oregon Project member Cameron Levins is one athlete that had asthma before joining the Oregon Project.
Former assistant coach Steve Magness allegations
In the BBC and ProPublica report, Steve Magness, an Oregon Project assistant coach from 2011 to 2012, says he and Salazar mutually agreed to part ways in 2012. Salazar insists that Magness' contract was terminated by the training group for being "a poor coach who had difficulty building rapport with world class athletes."
Salazar provides several emails detailing a timeline of his TUE requests for Rupp and his withdrawal from the 2011 Millrose Games on Jan. 28 and New Balance Indoor Games on Feb. 5, where a TUE was not granted in time to clear his body and compete at the race. The IAAF was the governing body in charge of authorizing Rupp's exemptions.
"Would it be possible for USADA to test Galen next week perhaps on Tuesday or Wednesday at our expense to check if the prednisone had cleared his system? If we got the results back by Friday we would know if he was safe to run the race. Tuesday would be five days since he’d had any. Thanks. ‐ Alberto Salazar"
USADA rejected the idea and said it cannot test athletes to make sure they test positive. Magness determined that the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota could test Rupp's urine for any sign of prednisone. Fifteen days after his last use of prednisone, the test met WADA and IAAF standards and Rupp went on to race at a 5,000-meter race in Dusseldorf on Feb. 11.
Azithromycin-Pak and Nasonex delivery
Magness emailed Salazar saying that Rupp was not feeling well prior to his race in Dusseldorf and had a cough. According to the ProPublica report, Magness was told to expect a package two days later. He received a paperback book with "a section of the pages had been hollowed out to form a compartment into which two pills were taped." Magness did not know what medication was delivered. Salazar shared emails from Rupp saying the cough had worsened, and so Salazar sent Azithromycin-Pak, an antibiotic to fight bacteria, and a Nasonex 50mcg/inhaler. The medication was sent in that fashion because Salazar feared it may not clear customs in the United Kingdom, where Rupp was based in Birmingham.
In one email, Rupp wrote that other than the cough, he was feeling fine and "I'm sure that the Z-Pack will get me to 100%."
Magness and Salazar purchased cough medicine while awaiting the package. Rupp confirmed the package receipt in another email in which he wrote, "“You went all Shawshank Redemption on that book and nasal spray. I loved it!!!”"
Salazar says his emails demonstrate that he complied with the IAAF and WADA throughout the process.
The chart notation
In the BBC and ProPublica report, Magness shares an episode in which he came across a chart depicting Rupp's hemoglobin levels dating back to high school and a December 2002 notation that said he was "presently on prednisone and testosterone medication." Salazar writes that the notation was a mistake and it was inappropriate for Magness to photograph and share the photo. Rupp was prescribed prednisone in December 2002 after an airway inflammation from a sinus infection. Salazar does say Rupp "did take legal supplements that claimed to naturally increase testosterone production" but only ones that were tested by the Nike Oregon project labs. Rupp's mother denied all allegations of taking any banned substances.
Salazar ends this section of his defense by stating, "Mistakes and imprecise notations happen."
In his statement, Alberto Salazar cites sprinter Justin Gatlin's positive test for exogenous testosterone as one reason why Rupp may have been paranoid from contact with a rival runner in another race.
On May 9, 2009, Galen Rupp’s University of Oregon 4x1 mile relay team set a new NCAA record. Shortly after the race while talking to the press, Galen felt someone rubbing his shoulders. He turned around and it was Chris Whetstine. Galen had heard the stories. He was extremely concerned and called me. I called the USADA hotline to report it. USADA may still have the tapes or notes of my call. Nothing came of it but it caused us grave concern.
Dr. Jeffrey Brown, an endocrinologist, carried out experiments to see how much Androgel would trigger a positive test from contact. Salazar used his sons for the experiment. The experiment was tested twice before Brown determined that eight squirts of Androgel, which would be noticeable upon application after a race, would surpass the legal threshold and trigger a positive test.
Salazar wrote, "I‘ll sleep better now after drug tests at big meetings knowing someone didn’t sabotage us!"
Adam and Kara Goucher allegations
Adam and Kara Goucher ran for the Nike Oregon Project for several years, and Salazar says maintained a close relationship with Kara. In the BBC and ProPublica report, Goucher says she was recommended Cytomel, a synthetic thyroid hormone, after giving birth to her son Colt in 2010. Goucher alleges that she was told otherwise by her doctor, but Salazar shared a statement by Dr. Brown who states otherwise.
Goucher also recalled an incident at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Seoul, where she claims Salazar was fuming when Rupp was not issued an IV or saline drip. Salazar has provided a statement from Doctor of Osteopathy Bob Adams that he did not recall such an incident. Salazar did request a magnesium infusion and vitamin B12 shot for Rupp due to the humid conditions of South Korea.
Goucher was surprised by Rupp's American record-setting performance in the 10,000-meter run in Brussels, just a few weeks after he told her that he felt tired in Daegu. Salazar says that Rupp's build and the weather conditions contributed to a fast time. It was nothing out of the ordinary, he says.
Salazar notes that the Goucher ties to the Oregon Project were severed after Adam "became emotional and belligerent" towards his coach after failing to qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Salazar continued to coach Kara but the two later parted ways because of his deteriorated relationship with Adam. Kara Goucher no longer runs for Nike and competes competitively for the women's apparel company Oiselle.
John Stiner and the needles
Salazar also responds to massage therapist John Stiner, who worked various training camps for Salazar, and his claim in The Daily Mail that he saw needles in Rupp's Park City, Utah home ahead of the 2008 Olympics. Salazar says the purpose of the vials and injections was to treat Rupp's allergies. A tube of Androgel also found in Rupp's room belonged to Salazar. He discloses his valid prescription to treat his hypogonadism and low testosterone serum levels stemming rom his own days as an elite athlete and near fatal heart attack in 2007. He never told Stiner that the Androgel was for his heart.
Salazar says he has reviewed all this information from the past 15 years in his defense. He remains proud of the success of the Oregon Project's success in that time span and is saddened by the allegations. He closes his defense saying, "Let the haters hate; we’re going to keep winning through hard work, dedication and fair play."
Nike has also issued a statement saying an internal investigation into the Salazar and Rupp allegations came up empty.
Salazar's statement does not address Lauren Fleshman's claim that Salazar helped her get treatment for asthma and recommended its use year-round.
Rupp will race in the men's 10,000-meter run and 5,000-meter run at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships starting on Thursday. Goucher will race in the women's 5,000-meter run on Sunday. The Associated Press is also reporting that the USADA is investigating Salazar and the allegations.
Update: On Thursday, Kara Goucher shared a statement with Sports Illustrated regarding Salazar's rebuttal.
"Unfortunately, Alberto's false statement and one-sided, partial stories don't tell the truth. Adam and I went to USADA in February 2013 when we had concerns about what we had experienced at the Oregon Project. When BBC and ProPublica approached us with the story, we felt it was time to tell our truth. I am gearing up to run at USA's on Sunday, and right now my sole focus is on the race. I have more to say about the topic, and I will be happy to share after USA's."