From the Nov/Dec 2019 issue of New England Runner magazine
Distance Running’s Growing Pains
Alberto Salazar’s Ban from Coaching From a Coach’s (and Child’s) Perspective
by Pete Rea, CT native & Coach of On ZAP Endurance
Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar in the 1979 Boston Freedom Trail 8M won by Salazar. Photo by Scott Mason
It was the fall of 1982 and this author was already in fascination mode with long distance running. A high school freshman at the time, two of my XC teammates from Conn. and I hopped a Bonanza Bus to N.Y.C. to catch that city’s marathon.
More specifically I wanted to see one man, the World Record Holder Alberto Salazar, who had redefined how marathons were raced. Alberto was just two years removed from his victorious marathon debut on the same course and a year removed from his World Record, also run through the five boroughs.
He won again that day with an aggressive late race move over Mexican Roldolfo Gomez. In this young runner’s mind, with a poster of him emblazoned on my bedroom wall, Salazar could do no wrong.
Now 37 years, almost to the day, removed from that third and final N.Y.C. Marathon win, Salazar finds himself embroiled in a bitter scandal, accused of and punished for illegal activities involving—among other things—the illegal use and transportation of testosterone and illegal large scale infusions of the amino acid L Carnitine. Numerous former athletes and a member of his own coaching staff testified to these activities resulting in the removal of Salazar’s IAAF Coaching Credential. Not surprisingly Nike plans to back his appeal.
As with many of these cases in the past, there is enough plausible deniability for Salazar’s ardent supporters to raise doubts about his guilt.
He admittedly experimented with testosterone gel on his own sons, claiming it was to determine if a spiking could occur. His explanation for the transportation of testosterone relates to his cardiac issues and the infusions of L Carnitine beyond acceptable levels has been adamantly denied (despite one of his former athletes, Dathan Ritzenhein, testifying to having received such infusions).
Dr Jeffrey Brown, a Houston based endocrinologist and paid Nike consultant has been prescribing thyroid medication to Salazar’s athletes for years, even in the absence of lower than normal thyroid levels, raising even greater suspicions that Salazar would and will do anything to win. Many of Salazar’s athletes have also been diagnosed as being “asthmatic” despite no previous diagnosis.
Whatever your beliefs about the Nike Oregon Project and Salazar at its helm, it is clear the boundaries of acceptable coaching behavior and the “win at all costs” lines were crossed. Yet despite this Nike appears to be backing their long-term athlete and coach to the very end. When I asked a former high profile Nike athlete (who asked to remain anonymous) why Nike would do so he responded in the harshest of terms. “Alberto knows where, metaphorically, the bodies are…going way back. If Nike lets him go, he has the power and the knowledge to bring down many high level names going way back. Nike simply won’t let that happen.”
Now in middle age, I’m a bit less naive; however, I still believe in the power of clean sport and the ability of talented athletes who work hard over the long-term to achieve great things.
I’ve been privileged to watch runners such as Joan Samuelson, Bill Rodgers, Grete Waitz, Steve Jones and countless others achieve amazing performances and I’d bet my house they were as clean as they come. Alberto once said that athletes could not compete on the highest of stages clean. This coach politely disagrees.
The Machiavellian approach to athletics and the coaching of athletes in that manner serves no one well, not the least of which are 9th grade boys with posters of their idols on the wall.
Frank Shorter in Falmouth with Falmouth Road Race founder Tommy Leonard.
Post Script / Do What is Right!
In the 1990s German physician Dr Werner Franke began studying the meticulous hand written East German Stasi doping records going as far back as the 1960s. Hundreds of East German athletes in those years were provided by the State with every known means of performance enhancement including blood doping and steroid use.
Patient #62 in those records was determined to be two-time Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist Waldemar Cierpinski. It continues to astonish this writer that despite these verified records Cierpinski’s medals have yet to be stripped (doing so would elevate Frank Shorter to his second Olympic Gold and provide American Don Kardong (who finished 4th) with his rightful Olympic Bronze.
When athletes are proven to have doped, those behind them should ALWAYSbe elevated no matter how long it’s been or how embarrassing to global federations.