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Leaked report claims Nike hindered Alberto Salazar doping investigation by USADA

Nike was accused of hindering a doping investigation into Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project
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Nike was accused of hindering a doping investigation into Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project, according to a leaked report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that was observed by German magazine Der Spiegel

On Saturday, Der Spiegel reported that Nike Oregon Project athletes Galen Rupp and Matthew Centrowitz provided “samples that arose suspicion in the doping investigators” ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Rupp won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February and then qualified for the 10,000 meters on the track at the track trials in July. He went on to win a bronze medal in the Olympic marathon. Centrowitz won the men's 1,500 meters in Rio to become the first American man to win gold in the event since 1908. Neither athlete has ever tested positive for any performance enhancing drug. Salazar has denied the allegations.

According to the Der Spiegel report, a USADA employee reported that Rupp's “T/E is elevated compared to athlete’s previous pattern in samples.” Drug testers examine the testosterone and epitestosterone levels to detect any signs of doping. Further testing was requested but the outcomes were not known. Rupp was tested by USADA 14 times in 2016.

Centrowitz was tested 17 times in 2016. In the report, USADA made note of a hemoglobin value and reticulocyte count that appeared to show a “suspicious profile.” USADA employees requested to test Centrowitz again in the following weeks but the leaked emails do not show if that happened. Centrowitz said he was never contacted by USADA and is dedicated to clean sport.

USADA's leaked report notes that Salazar banned his athletes from speaking about the vitamins and medications they take even among themselves.

The doping allegations come from hundreds of emails and documents that were leaked by the Fancy Bears hacking group. The latest allegations came to light from a Sunday Times article that pulled from the leaked USADA report, which was written in March 2016, and stated that Salazar has an “obsession with the testosterone levels of his athletes.” Salazar’s alleged possession of testosterone gel was first revealed in 2015 and he said in an 11,736-word statement at the time that he has a prescription for testosterone to treat hypogonadism.

• From 2015: Alberto Salazar allegations: What athletes, coaches are saying

USADA requested any documents from Salazar that contained the words: “testosterone,” “Testoboost” or “Testo.” Salazar did not give up the documents and said they were on the Nike server, which belongs to the sportswear giant. Der Spiegel added that Nike wanted to sign a “confidentiality agreement” with USADA before complying. 

A lawyer for USADA determined that the terms of Nike's agreement would give Nike unilateral control over the documents in USADA's possession and prevents USADA from using the documents in any hearing. The lawyer said that the agreement also had "the potential capacity to interfere with, delay or impede USADA’s investigation in a myriad of ways."

Nike provided some documents to USADA and issued the following statement:

"To be clear, Nike has not tried to obstruct USADA’s investigations into the Oregon Project In fact, the opposite is true.   Nike has voluntarily cooperated with information requests from USADA, including turning over thousands of pages of documents to USADA, an effort that imposed a substantial cost and effort to Nike.  Nike did so even though USADA has no legal right to request or access the documents and has never informed Nike of the precise nature of its investigation.  Nike undertook this effort because it strongly believes in clean sport and does not tolerate the use of performance enhancing drugs. We welcome and respect the genuine efforts that are made to ensure that sport remains clean.

In its effort to fully cooperate with USADA and be responsive to its requests, Nike requested that USADA agree to some basic protections in the form of a confidentiality agreement.   This kind of agreement is very common in situations like this in the United States, and is standard practice even where there is a legal obligation to turn over documents (which in this case there was not).  Indeed, the primary purpose of the agreement was to prevent USADA from turning over these documents to third parties. 

Nike requested confidentiality because USADA’s requests were so broad and expansive that responding to them would include producing documents that contained sensitive, irrelevant and sometimes very personal information about Oregon Project Athletes and others unrelated to USADA’s purported investigation. The confidentiality clause was simply to protect the personal information contained in those documents from disclosure to third parties, not obstruct the investigation. 

USADA unreasonably refused to agree on the language of a confidentiality agreement. Notwithstanding this refusal, Nike voluntarily turned over thousands of pages of documents. USADA made no follow up request for documentation of any kind. Sadly, it has now become apparent that USADA was unable or unwilling to keep those documents and/or the contents secure. Nike did not seek “to obtain unilateral control of the documents that were already in the hands of USADA.” Nike only wanted to protect the confidentiality of the documents it was producing to USADA voluntarily.

Alberto has clearly and repeatedly refuted allegations directed against him and his management of the Oregon Project. He has stated that he believes in a clean sport and a methodical, dedicated, approach to training.  Additionally, Alberto has made it clear that the Oregon Project will never permit doping and all Oregon Project athletes are required to comply with the WADA Code and IAAF Rules.”

In 2015, Salazar was the subject of a ProPublica and BBC report alleging he pushed the boundaries on doping rules to gain a competitive advantage by encouraging the use of prescription medication and therapeutic use exemptions. He would allegedly push for use of asthma and thyroid medication for performance enhancement. The report also implicated Rupp.

Salazar responded to the Sunday Times report saying, "I believe in a clean sport and a methodical, dedicated approach to training. The Oregon Project will never permit doping and all Oregon Project athletes are required to comply with the Wada Code and IAAF Rules. I do not use supplements that are banned.”

- Chris Chavez