In 2019, the New York Times released an “Opinion” episode titled, “I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike,” where former pro runner Mary Cain shed light on her experiences at Nike and training under Alberto Salazar.
Cain was a prodigy runner, winning the 3000m and the 2014 World Junior Championships and becoming the youngest American to compete at the elite World Championships in 2013, at just 17 years old.
After her standout performance in 2013, Cain decided to forego a college career in order to run at the professional level and signed with the Nike Oregon Project.
Although Cain still experienced some success after her breakthrough year in 2013, the following three years would bring an overall decline in her performance. For example, in 2015, Cain finished 11th in the 1500m at the USATF Mid Distance Classic, running 4:16.48, almost 12 seconds slower than she did in 2013 at the same meet.
In her 2019 video op-ed published with the New York Times, Cain attributes her decline in running performance to the harsh coaching practices at the Nike Oregon Project.
“I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike,” Cain said in her video.
In the video, Cain claimed that coach Alberto Salazar and his staff would set an arbitrary and unreasonably low goal weight of 114 pounds despite not having any certified psychologist or nutritionist.
Cain says that Salazar would weigh her in front of her teammates and humiliate her if she hadn’t met the goal. Cain claims that Salazar wanted to put her on birth control pills and diuretics in order to lose weight, the latter of which is not allowed in sports.
“It reached a point where I was on the starting line and lost the race before I started.”
As a result of being shamed into maintaining a low weight and demanding training regimens, Cain was pushed into relative energy deficiency syndrome (RED-S), which involved lost menses for three years and amassed five bone fractures.
Cain said she began having suicidal thoughts and self-harming but that no staff gave her support, even after her cries for help.
“I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls.”
Mary Cain is not the only female athlete to have come forward about the toxic culture of the Nike Oregon Project.
Kara Goucher, a former athlete under the Nike Oregon Project, has also shed light on the body-centered environment she trained in. Goucher explained that just months after having her first child, Salazar made constant comments about her “baby weight.”
Not only did Salazar allegedly make comments on Goucher’s weight, but she also claimed acts of sexual abuse during massages and while on the plane home from a meet, where Salazar allegedly attempted to kiss her.
Nike Oregon Project and Alberto Salazar were not only known for their detrimental culture against women’s bodies but also for their unethical practices against US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) regulations.
Goucher testified against Salazar to USADA after leaving Nike over suspicious training methods, especially when, out of nowhere, athletes began performing better than ever.
Goucher recounts a shadowy man known as “Dr. Brown” who turned up at races, mysterious vials and unmarked prescription bottles around, and secretive meetings between Salazar and some athletes.
Goucher even recalls that in 2006, Salazar attempted to give Adam Goucher, Kara’s husband, supplements to increase his testosterone, which weren’t approved by USADA.
Following these sanctions, Nike announced it would be folding the Nike Oregon Project as the situation surrounding Alberto Salazar was reportedly distracting to the athletes and taking away from their ability to focus on training and competition.
Salazar appealed the decision by the US Center for SafeSport. However, his appeal had been rejected, and he remains permanently ineligible.
In 2021, Mary Cain filed a $20 million lawsuit against Salazar and Nike for the abusive tactics that were used during her time at the Nike Oregon Project and the lack of oversight by the sportswear giant.
This week, the online docket for the lawsuit noted that the case had been settled, and a clerk for the judge confirmed that a Nike attorney notified the court that the case had been resolved.
The terms of the settlement have yet to be disclosed.
The settlement of the Mary Cain lawsuit brings one of Nike’s highest-profile legal battles to an end. The deep ties the once-celebrated track coach has to Nike have left a tarnished reputation for both Salazar and the sportswear company.
Although the legal case is resolved, Nike and Salazar continue to absorb backlash from the wider community for the incidents.
Nike nor Salazar have commented on the lawsuit settlement.