Controversial athletics coach Alberto Salazar denied subjecting former members of his Nike Oregon Project to abuse or gender discrimination on Tuesday but admitted using “callous” language against athletes in the training group.
Salazar, who was banned for four years last month for a range of doping offences, has faced stinging criticism from several former runners over methods used in his controversial Oregon Project, which has now been disbanded.
Last week, former US runner Mary Cain said she had suffered physical and mental abuse at the training camp as a result of Salazar’s demanding regime.
Cain, a former high school prodigy who was tipped for middle-distance greatness, said she had suffered suicidal thoughts and started cutting herself as life in the training group took its toll.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Cain detailed how she had faced pressure to become “thinner and thinner and thinner,” eventually causing her to stop menstruating for three years.
Another former runner, Olympian Amy Begley, said Salazar barred her from the training group in 2011, complaining she was “too fat” and “had the biggest butt on the starting line.”
In a statement to The Oregonian newspaper Tuesday, Salazar acknowledged using insensitive language but insisted it was part and parcel of life as an elite athlete.
“On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training,” Salazar said. “If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry. I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the Oregon Project.”
Salazar said his emphasis on weight was related to “what (an athlete’s) target training weight and performance weight should be to attain peak performance while maintaining an overall good well-being.”
“That’s part of elite sport,” Salazar said. “Maybe that needs to change. Indeed, I have always treated men and women similarly in this regard – to treat my female athletes differently I believe would not be in their personal interests or in the interests of promoting their best athletic performance.”
Nike shut down the Oregon Project in October when Salazar was banned for four years for an array of doping offenses that included trafficking in testosterone, tampering with the doping control process and administering illicit infusions of the fat-burning substance L-carnitine.
Salazar has denied wrongdoing and vowed to appeal the ban.