The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency handed down a four-year doping ban Monday night to controversial track coach Alberto Salazar. The 61-year-old is head of the Nike Oregon Project, a training program launched to boost the performance of American distance runners, and has had a number of the world’s top runners under his tutelage, including four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah of Britain and America’s top marathon runner, Galen Rupp. Salazar, who has said he will appeal the ruling, was found to have “possessed and trafficked a banned performance-enhancing substance and administered or attempted to administer a prohibited method to multiple track and field athletes,” according to an independent arbitration panel. A doctor with the Nike Oregon Project, endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown, who operated as the personal physician for some of the program’s runners, was also given a four-year ban.
The USADA stressed that its ruling was the culmination of an extensive four-year investigation that included 30 witness interviews, about 2,000 exhibits, and nearly 5,800 pages of transcripts. During the investigation, a December 2011 email from Salazar to disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong was unearthed enthusing about a supplement called L-carnitine, which is believed to enhance athletic performance. The email read: “Lance, call me asap! We have tested it and it’s amazing! You are the only athlete I’m going to tell the actual numbers to other than Galen Rupp. It’s too incredible. All completely legal and natural.” Salazar was notified in 2017 that he had violated doping rules, but the high-profile coach contested the findings, setting off a two-year court battle. Ultimately, Salazar’s case went before an independent arbitration pnael last year, which imposed the ban.
The arbitration panel’s findings also indicated substantive links to Nike in facilitating athlete doping. “The panel’s summary further indicated that Brown had alerted Nike executives to some of his testosterone testing—specifically an experiment that involved Salazar’s sons using a cream and running on a treadmill for 20 minutes,” the Washington Post reports. “We are next going to determine the minimal amount of gel that would cause a problem,” banned physician Jeffrey Brown wrote the chief executive of Nike in 2009. A Nike spokesman distanced the company and the Oregon Project from the ruling. “Today’s decision had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete,” the spokesman said in a statement. “As the panel noted, they were struck by the amount of care Alberto took to ensure he was complying with the World Anti-Doping Code.”
The ruling was handed down in the middle of the world track and field championships currently underway in Doha, Qatar, where Salazar’s presence is still felt. Over the weekend at the championships, one-time Salazar trainee, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, won the 10,000-meter women’s event. She also set a world record in July in the women’s mile.