The Nike Oregon Project | Saket Mehrotra

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In the year 2001, Thomas Clark, Nike’s Vice president started the Oregon Project.

Thomas was not satisfied with performance of long distance American athletes since the early 80’s.

Alberto Salazar, a renowned long distance runner, won three consecutive New York city marathons in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

Salazar went on to become The Oregon Project’s head coach.

Salazar initially recruited top runners to the program. His training methods were ineffective with them. This made him conclude that older athletes tend to have ingrained habits that cannot be changed.

At this point, Salazar started recruiting young athletes who later turned out to be successful runners.

In 2007, Salazar suffered a heart attack at the campus. He was implanted with a defibrillator and planned to take a more limited role at Nike. The succession plan was laid out for the project.

Instead, the Oregon project started a mild collapse like a house of cards in the year 2017.

The New York Times wrote an article about a leaked and unverified USADA (US Anti Doping Agency) report that claimed Salazar worked with athletes using intravenous methods to increase their L-carnitine levels (L-Carnitine is involved in metabolism in mammals that transports long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria to be oxidized for energy levels).

In 2019, Salazar was banned for 4 years on the following allegations – trafficking testosterone, infusing prohibited amount of L-carnitine and attempt to tampering with doping controls.

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Nine days after Salazar’s ban, on 10th October 2019, Nike shut down the Oregon project. After 12 days, Mark Parker announced stepping down from the position of CEO w.e.f. January, 2020.

One of the athletes, Mary Cain who was a part of the Oregon Project came forward and spoke about the Oregon Project in detail in this video op-ed:

In an interview to CNBC, when asked about the Oregon Project controversy and the timing of Parker stepping down, the CEO chose to speak only about the former (watch from 4:47 in the video)

After Cain’s video came to light, multiple other athletes (especially women) came forward to speak about what really went down at the Oregon Project.

In an open letter, Salazar denied all allegations and is presently appealing his ban. Salazar however, did agree to using inappropriate language against female athletes and not being cognizant of it’s mental implications.

CONCLUSION

One school of thought agrees that Salazar had the best understanding about the performance of elite athletes and would have made sure they performed to their ultimate best. The other school of thought argues that there was lack of oversight and this made Salazar borderline violate the USADA regulation in an attempt to push the performance.

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What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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Saket Mehrotra
Saket is a number cruncher, avid reader, coffee connoisseur, book store hopper & Metallica fan. He is an active follower of Sensex since 2009. CA, CS by profession.
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