The Nike Oregon Project (NOP) was discontinued in October, with ever-new reports from athletes in the elite training program putting pressure on the sporting goods manufacturer. On Thursday, runner Mary Cain, who once entered the NOP as the biggest US talent, went public.
In a 23-year essay she wrote for the New York Times, she blames herself heavily, "I joined Nike to become the best female athlete of all time, and instead I was mentally and physically abused by the system Alberto [Salazar] designed and approved Nike. " Salazar, the former head coach and founder of the NOP, was banned for four years for violating anti-doping rules on 10 October.
Since 2013, Cain (right) trained in the NOP under Salazar
Cain said she was urged to continue losing weight. Salazar had prescribed the 1.70-meter runner a weight target of just under 52 kilograms and weighed them regularly in front of their assembled teammates. If she did not reach the goal, he publicly humiliated her in front of the group. The systematic intake of birth control pills and diuretics, which promote the increased flushing of urine, he should have demanded of her.
"I was scared, feeling lonely and trapped," Cain writes. "I developed suicidal thoughts." She started hurting herself. However, although other people in the NOP would have observed this, no one did anything about it. Cain argued that a higher proportion of women in the NOP leadership would have minimized the risk of such conditions developing: "I was trapped in a system designed by men for men, destroying the bodies of young women . "
Nike responds to allegations
Steve Magness, Salazar's former assistant coach, confirmed the allegations. He himself had been tasked with systematically pushing athletes to lose weight. When he presented data that showed questionable values, he was told, "I'm not interested in science, I know what I see: your butt is too big." Magness accuses the NOP of exploiting the vulnerability of young female athletes: "If culture is designed to push it to the limit, that's the result."
Nike responded to Cain's allegations. A spokesman for the group said it was "deeply worrying allegations." However, Nike also insisted that she had never heard of the allegations "that had not been raised by Mary or her parents before." The sporting goods manufacturer announced an immediate review of the facts and discussions with former employees of the NOP.
Nike has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in early October that Salazar reportedly informed leading Nike staff of the results of its experiments back in 2009. Evidence of this should be e-mails that Salazar is said to have sent directly to Nike CEO Mark Parker, among others.