How Mary Cain could change women's sports

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Cain_MaryFHL1-nbGP14.jpgMary Cain takes NB 2014, photo by Photorun.net

"I was the fastest girl in America, until I joined Nike." Mary Cain's explosive claims in blistering op-ed. @arobach has the story. READ MORE: https://t.co/WASrjDZncf pic.twitter.com/LF5kgCN5VH

-- Good Morning America (@GMA) November 8, 2019

This is my response to the allegations by Mary Cain regarding her life changing experiences at the Nike Oregon Project. I applaud Mary Cain on breaking her silence, and also on her thoughtful commentary. I also believe that, after this NYT video, WADA and USADA is the least of Nike's worries. Nike has the chance, if it continues in its current comments, to alienate many women who support the Swoosh, its products and culture.

Alberto Salazar wanted to put together a club that could help U.S. distance athletes become world beaters. He had the financial support of Nike, a $50 billion sports machine that has championed new sports, old sports, men's sports, women's sports. Alberto Salazar was a fine high school athlete, an outstanding college athlete and a fine world class athlete. Alberto had highs and lows in his career, a career that he believed, could have been different if only...

When one observed Alberto Salazar coachng, one would immediately be taken by his attention to details. Everything that could be measured was measured. Alberto's athletes would have access to all the he believed mattered. It was this attention to detail that made him different. It was also his attention to detail that concerned WADA and USADA.

When Kara Goucher began to question the Nike Oregon Project, a club she helped put on the map with her 2007 World Champ silver at 10,000m, the word got out that, well, Kara had issues with the coaching staff. Then, others began to complain about how NOP was managed, and some began listening, many thought it was sour grapes.

I recall that when Mo Farah and Galen began working out together, Alberto Salazar made a point of complementing both on how well they trained together. In 2013, I visited Alberto Salazar with an IAAF Media group, and we saw a day in the life of the NOP. They did all of the things that I had expected: core training, a day of long intervals, and cooldown.

Mary Cain was the golden child. She was one of the most talented athletes that I had seen. As someone who has observed the sport for much of five decades, I had concerns about young women training hard very young, nutritional issues for young women and most of all, the challenges of being a teen ager in modern America.

A couple of digressions.

When Galen Rupp began working with Salazar, Alberto was trying to show him that being an elite distance runner was full of minefields and that much had to be given up. After a win at the Nike Border Clash one year, Alberto Salazar gave Galen, who had just demolished a course record on the slow, 4,400m course, two sets of six times the 300m. Galen was exhausted, and some witnessess noted, emotional after the additional workout.

Women's bodies change alot in their teens. Some young women, who are thin as rails, change body shape and yes, weight as they go into puberty. Coaches, both male and female have used weight shaming for decades with American women distance runners. It is simple, they might say, less weight means less energy used, and more energy for the finish.

AO-Winter2013_FC-thumb-500x669-8492-thumb-500x670-37303.jpgWinter 2013, Athletes Only, photo by Photorun.net

Weight shaming, body shaming is not a Nike exclusive. It is all over the globe. Truth is, for many, if a women works out like the typical track athlete, they will get to a natural body weight for them, in six to ten months. The coach-athlete relationship is a power position. No matter how genuine the coach, the influence that they have on a young athlete can last a lifetime.

Sport is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, the solace taken from a hard fought cross country race is enough for many. For those who want to be the best in the world, that is a rarefied atmosphere.

I think that Mary Cain's video, and NYT op piece is tremendous. I was taken in by the honesty and thoughtfulness of a young adult, Mary Cain. The piece on the NYT today, by Victor Mather https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/08/sports/mary-cain-nike-alberto-salazar.html shows that the story of body shaming is even bigger than many thought.

Many have sent me emails, texts and reminded me of incidents that I had heard about, but thought might be (perhaps hoped) was rumor. Several prominent people in the sport admitted to seeing the Salazar Cain bodyshaming incident.

I also had notes that reminded me of the difference between a good local athlete and the challenges of an emerging elite athlete or an elite athlete. In Alberto Salazar's mind, per his aquaintences, he was not making joggers, he was fine tuning the mortal engines of young American distance runners who wanted to become world beaters. They needed to be thinner, fitter, faster and more focused than the East Africans that are at the top of the distance running food chain.

Now, all of that has been thrown up in the air. How tainted are the medals of athletes involved in NOP? Is this a terrible thing to say? Of course it is. But, it is being noted on social media in languages all over the world.

Mary Cain is beginning a revolution. Body Shaming, Weight Shaming is wrong. It has been around for decades. It is not a Nike issue, but it is a sport issue, and coaches, both men and women do it.

Nike needs to pull its head out, and found a taskforce on practices in women's sports. They need to invite all sports companies to join, and NCAA, coaches as well. If they take the allegations seriously, and have any idea on how deep the outrage goes, they will run to develop programming to stop body shaming, weight shaming.

Athletes need to know that, with all sports challenges, discipline, focus, training and healthy coaching are key. Mary Cain has opened an important discussion in households across the globe. Nike has the chance to respond and show that, as a leading global sports brand, they take seriously the knowledge that nearly half of their daily sales are the result of women's purchases. That power needs to be appreciated.

How do I give closure to Mary Cain? The journey to elite athletedom is fraught with danger. Training hard is not enough. The issues that Mary Cain developed as she slipped farther and farther away from her dream, should have been discussed and acted upon. That such situations happen in non elite situations do not make them better, nor do they lessen them. The mysogynism in modern athletics will take critical discussion and actions to challenge. Mary Cain is not here to destroy a sport that she clearly loves. She is here to help fix it. In that change, we hope Mary Cain will have closure.

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