Clean up in Lane 9.
If I were a betting man, I’d put money down that athletics is on the verge of its next major mess.
While none of the accusations that came out over the weekend against coach Alberto Salazar are new, surprising or conclusive, they were, however, indicative that the investigation into Salazar’s questionable supplementing practices are far from over—and, if anything, might even be a step closer to showing that ethical (and even legal) lines may have been crossed on multiple occasions.
The purported evidence—a 269-page draft of a USADA report leaked by the hacker group Fancy Bears—was not yet meant for public consumption, but USADA did not deny its existence, or accuracy. Salazar, along with Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, of course denied everything, but what else would you expect them to do at this point?
None of the information in the leaked USADA report is official but it’s damning enough—along with what we already know—to make me believe that something messy is about to go down. Here’s why:
— At a minimum, it’s clear that Salazar is willing to push right up against the boundaries of what’s legal—and ethical—in regard to supplementation for his athletes. This type of calculated behavior in competitive, high-stakes environments doesn’t typically stop short of said boundary; instead, offenders will usually try to see how far past it they can go before it becomes noticeable.
— Along those lines, when Salazar emails the most disgraced drug cheat of all-time about the performance gains of an experimental IV he’s been testing, it paints the gray area solid black for me. “Call me asap! We have tested it and it’s amazing,” Salazar wrote to Armstrong in 2011. “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! You will finish the iron man in about 16 minutes less while taking this.”
— If there’s nothing to hide, why not let USADA look at your medical records? I’m all for protecting an athlete’s privacy, but for the protection of sport itself, this important information should be easily accessible by international anti-doping organizations, especially during an investigation.
— Along those lines, I think it’s Salazar’s relationship with Dr. Jeffrey Brown that’s going to be the undoing of this entire thing, and potentially have ramifications that extend beyond the Oregon Project. “USADA has found substantial and compelling evidence that Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar and Houston endocrinologist Dr Jeffrey Brown conspired to collude together in order to employ risky and untested alternative and unconventional (and sometimes potentially unlawful) uses of medical procedures and prescription medications (including both substances and methods prohibited and/or potentially prohibited under the rules of sport and those that were not) to attempt to increase the testosterone and energy levels and the recovery capacity of NOP athletes in order to boost athletics performance,” the report said. “USADA found that at least seven runners were prescribed thyroid medication after joining the project. The medical records of some of them, reviewed by USADA, indicate no need for the medication.” You could debate the use of L-Carnitine all you want—hell, you could throw it out of the argument all together—because if there is evidence that prescription drugs were being used unlawfully, and on a wider scale than just the NOP, the sport has a cycling-like collapse on its hands.
— “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.” I’ve always felt there’s quite a bit of truth to this statement. It’s worth keeping a close eye on how the various parties involved respond to the media as this situation continues to unfold and more news comes out that Salazar and company will surely not want printed. Salazar decried the initial ProPublica reports as “inexcusable, irresponsible journalism” and Farah recently posted that he is “unclear as to the Sunday Times’s motivations towards me.” Sound familiar?
— Tangentially-related shadiness: Finally, and not mentioned in Sunday’s reports, but worth including in this conversation: Salazar and Farah’s relationship with coach Jama Aden, who was busted for supplying his athletes with EPO in Spain last summer, remains largely unresolved. I wrote about this in Issue 32 and again in Issue 43. Letsrun provided a solid rundown last June but it hasn’t been written about much since, to my knowledge. I’ll be interested to see if any chatter about this resurfaces anytime soon.