The dark clouds hovering over Nike are refusing to disperse.
Already under the microscope for their relationship with the Brazil football team which merited a strong mention – as “Company A” – in the FIFA indictments and has prompted a fresh inquiry by the Brazilian Senate, a new scandal has erupted with similar potentially huge repercussions for those involved, if only by association.
A painstaking expose crafted by the BBC and investigation website ProPublica has accused legendary US long distance running coach Alberto Salazar of contravening strict United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) rules.
Salazar, who coaches Olympic champion Mo Farah and is an advisor to UK Athletics, is the brainchild behind Nike’s ‘Oregon Project’ (NOP) – a futuristic human laboratory created in 2001 to help spawn long distance running champions, an area which the US has failed to deliver in.
The best prospects are hand-picked at Nike’s Beaverton HQ. Underwater and low-gravity treadmills are on offer while bedrooms with reduced oxygen levels attempt to replicate living at high altitude.
Cryogenic chambers are an alternative to ice baths. It’s space-age training.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) June 7, 2015
Salazar himself is a stickler for detail – he once told a pupil his thumb position was holding him back from greatness. But it appears the 56-year-old’s search for perfection may have gone too far.
Farah, who isn’t accused of any wrongdoing, is being urged to sever all links with the man known as the most powerful running coach in the US. The Brit’s Nike training partner Galen Rupp, however, has been accused of using testosterone dating back to his teens.
Rupp, who has been coached and transformed by Salazar since he was 16, became the first US athlete to win a medal of any colour over 10,000 metres since 1964 at London 2012. He is also accused of illegally using prednisone – an asthma drug which can enhance oxygen consumption.
That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. The investigation claims at least seven athletes or staff associated with the NOP have contacted USADA with concerns that the three-time New York marathon winner has created a systematic doping culture.
According to one, Salazar’s son Alex was used a guinea pig, rubbing testosterone onto his skin to see if it is detectable.
As the FBI continue to bulldoze their way through the crumbling wreckage of Sepp Blatter’s ruinous FIFA reign, they could well be turning their attentions to Oregon.
Farah adds that if Alberto Salazar is found guilty of anything, “I’m the first to leave him”. pic.twitter.com/9bYQaZGpgK
— PA Sport (@pasport) June 6, 2015
In the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal and the Olympic doping shame which went before it, US government authorities aren’t scared of throwing their considerable weight around.
Indeed, the FBI brought down the notorious San Francisco based BALCO drugs lab in 2002 and, backed by USADA, will stop at nothing to uncover the truth; they chased Armstrong before USADA took over.
Kara and Adam Goucher, both former Nike Oregon Project runners who quit because of the practices conducted under Salazar’s watch, claim Rupp was told to try and get an intravenous drip ahead of races, using the 2011 World Championships as an example.
The drip could mask banned substances and trick the testers.
It’s also claimed Salazar used a hollowed out book to shift drugs to Rupp as well as using a thyroid medication which could be used to help burn fat. (Thyroid drugs are not yet on the banned substance list but many believe its use without a legitimate thyroid problem is tantamount to cheating.)
“We had heard stuff about him (Rupp) going to see that Dr Jeffrey Brown in Houston,’’ said GB runner Andy Vernon who has been highly critical of rival Farah.
“Here was this doctor — unlike any doctor — who seemed to be able to identify thyroid problems in athletes. If no other doctor can find it but this guy finds it in four healthy male athletes, I find that worrying.”
— Vikki Orvice (@vikkiorvice) June 6, 2015
Nike, who have said they are taking the allegations “very seriously” as they not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs in any manner are under increasingly heavy fire. Many are wondering why serial drug cheat Justin Gatlin was handed a new sponsorship deal in March.
The irony that the 33-year-old broke Usain Bolt’s meet record by running 9.75s in Rome on Thursday was not lost on those sceptics adopting the smoking gun theory.
Salazar and Rupp deny all accusations and, it must be noted, nothing has been proved.