Endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown, Salazar’s colleague with the Nike Oregon Project running club who served as a personal physician for some runners, also received a four-year ban. USADA said Brown tampered with records, was complicit in trafficking testosterone and administered high doses of a supplement called L-carnitine, which is believed to enhance athletic performance.
No athletes were cited for wrongdoing in the news release, though several participated in the investigation.
“The athletes in these cases found the courage to speak out and ultimately exposed the truth,” said Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive. “While acting in connection with the Nike Oregon Project, Mr. Salazar and Dr. Brown demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and well-being of the athletes they were sworn to protect.”
The punishment became official after a two-year court battle as two independent arbitration panels considered the cases. Salazar intends to appeal the arbitration panel’s decision, and he said in a statement Monday night he was “shocked by the outcome today.”
“Throughout this … investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA,” Salazar said. “This is demonstrated by the misleading statement released by Travis Tygart stating that we put winning ahead of athlete safety. This is completely false and contrary to the findings of the arbitrators.”
Salazar noted that in rendering its decision, the arbitration panel said it felt the coach “does not appear to have been motivated by any bad intention to commit the violations the Panel found. In fact, the Panel was struck by the amount of care generally taken by [Salazar] to ensure that whatever new technique or method or substance he was going to try was lawful under the World Anti-Doping Code, with USADA’s witness characterizing him as the coach they heard from the most with respect to trying to ensure that he was complying with his obligations.”
USADA’s announcement marked the culmination of a four-year investigation that the organization said included interviews with 30 witnesses, more than 2,000 exhibits and nearly 5,800 pages of transcripts. The organization said it relied on eyewitness accounts, contemporaneous emails and medical records.
“Following two evidentiary hearings, Salazar’s lasting seven days and Brown’s lasting six days, and a lengthy post-hearing review of all the evidence and testimony, the [arbitration] panel found that Salazar and Brown possessed and trafficked a banned performance-enhancing substance and administered or attempted to administer a prohibited method to multiple track and field athletes,” USADA said in a statement.
The news landed in the early days of the IAAF world championships, which are taking place in Doha, Qatar, where several of Salazar’s past and present athletes are competing.
A Nike spokesman said the company supports the coach’s decision to appeal “and wish him the full measure of due process that the rules require.”
“Today’s decision had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete,” the spokesman said in an emailed 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.”
Salazar is one of track’s most celebrated coaches, but he has also faced scrutiny and skirted controversy for several years. The BBC first cast a light on some of his practices in 2015, highlighting his reliance on infusions of L-carnitine, a supplement that turns fat into energy.
According to Salazar’s arbitration panel decision, the coach first learned of the supplement in 2011 when he was told about a “new sports drink coming out of the United Kingdom” by a Nike employee named Paul Winsper, who worked in the company’s “Stark” department, which the arbitration summary says “had to do with new training revolutionary methods.” Salazar reportedly said Winsper told him that he “might want to think about [the new sports drink] for your athletes that could really be, you know, a benefit.”
Salazar began studying the supplement, eager to learn more about L-carnitine and its impact on performance. The panel’s decision noted that, in November 2011, Stephen Magness, an assistant coach with the Nike Oregon Project, received an L-carnitine infusion of 1,000 mL, well over the permissible limit of 50 mL. The panel’s decision said that “without [Salazar], Mr. Magness would not have had the infusion. Mr. Magness worked for Respondent and it was in his interest to do what he was instructed.”
There was some debate by the panel as to whether Magness was still an active athlete subject to anti-doping rules, but the panel found that as head coach, Salazar “was negligent in his duty and let his enthusiasm about the L-carnitine performance enhancing potential cloud his judgment. The Panel is not stating that [Salazar] set out to violate the Code, but that according to the Code’s provisions and Respondent’s actions in this case, he did so, seemingly unwittingly.”
Salazar was apparently pleased with the early results, the panel found. The arbitration decision states that in December 2011, he emailed cyclist Lance Armstrong, saying: “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.”
The panel noted that several runners from Nike Oregon Project were also administered L-carnitine, including Rupp, Dathan Ritzenhein, Alvina Begay and Lindsay Allen-Horn, but it wasn’t always clear how much each received. The reports state that Brown “does not deny that he added the infusion volumes [to athletes’ medical records] after-the-fact,” and “there is ample evidence that [Brown] altered the athletes’ records after notice of the USADA investigation had been received.”
Even before they began experimenting with L-carnitine, Salazar had already apparently been researching gels, creams and testosterone levels, according to summaries of the arbitration decisions. One athlete, Amy Begley, told investigators of an instance in which Salazar described a “testosterone cream that he was going to use for an experiment to see how much it would take to create a positive test,” Brown’s arbitration summary stated.
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.
“We are next going to determine the minimal amount of gel that would cause a problem,” Brown wrote to Mark Parker, the chief executive of Nike, in 2009, according to the documents.
Salazar is an accomplished long distance runner himself who won the New York City Marathon three times and the Boston Marathon once. He helped found the Nike Oregon Project in 2001 with the aim of making Americans more competitive on a global stage. Backed by Nike, Salazar found success with several elite distance runners. Competing for Britain, Farah won gold medals at two distances — 5,000 and 10,000 meters — in both the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. He split with Salazar in October 2017.
While the year’s biggest meet continues Tuesday in Doha, Salazar’s status will no doubt create a buzz around the track that might linger into next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Stephanie Bruce, an American long-distance runner, tweeted Monday night her “faith in the sport has been restored. Thanks to all those courageous individuals who spoke out and have been building this case. Mr. Salazar I hope we cease to see your influence in our running world. Also about DAMN time.”