Nike said Friday it would investigate the “deeply troubling” allegations of emotional and physical abuse made by Mary Cain against its Oregon Project, a distance-running training program.
In a video for The New York Times Opinion, published Thursday, Cain accused the project’s director, marathon great Alberto Salazar, of repeatedly urging her to lose weight to unhealthy levels.
Salazar was recently suspended for four years for anti-doping violations, and the Nike Oregon Project was shut down. Salazar has denied giving athletes performance-enhancing drugs.
Nike also said in a statement that “Mary was seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto’s team as recently as April of this year and had not raised these concerns as part of that process.”
Cain was a high-school middle-distance phenom from New York, qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 2012 at 16. Later that year, she began training with Salazar and continued to do so until 2015. Her later performances on the track did not match her early promise.
In the video, Cain, 23, accused Salazar of shaming her in front of others on the team when she did not reach the required weight targets. She said that her low weight caused her to miss her period for three years, leading to lower levels of estrogen and five broken bones.
She also said that she had suicidal thoughts and cut herself, but that no one at Nike “really did anything or said anything.”
Salazar replied to Cain’s video in a statement to The Oregonian: “Neither of her parents, nor Mary, raised any of the issues that she now suggests occurred while I was coaching her. To be clear, I never encouraged her, or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight.”
In a Twitter message Friday morning, Cain acknowledged that she had sought to reconnect with Salazar.
“I wanted closure, wanted an apology for never helping me when I was cutting, and in my own, sad, never-fully healed heart, wanted Alberto to still take me back,” she wrote. “I still loved him. Because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave more than anything their very approval.”
“We quickly fell out of touch this summer,” she added, “and that made the rose color glasses finally fall off. He didn’t care about me as a person; only as the product, the performer, the athlete.”
Cain received support on social media from other runners.
“I had no idea it was this bad,” tweeted Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 New York City Marathon winner. “I’m so sorry, @runmarycain that I never reached out to you when I saw you struggling. I made excuses to myself as to why I should mind my own business. We let you down. I will never turn my head again.”
Amy Yoder Begley, a former American Olympian, tweeted that she was kicked out of the Oregon Project after finishing sixth in the 10,000 meters at the U.S. track and field championships.
“I was told I was too fat and ‘had the biggest butt on the starting line,’” she wrote, “This brings those painful memories back.”
Kara Goucher, another American Olympian who used to train with the Oregon Project, said on Twitter, “I have stories to match all of Mary’s claims and so much more.”