DOHA (Reuters) - American Alberto Salazar, who has coached some of the world’s top distance runners, including Olympic and world champion Mo Farah, has been banned for four years for doping violations.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said Salazar was punished for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” as head coach of the Nike Oregon Project (NOP), a camp designed primarily to develop U.S. endurance athletes.
Endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown, who worked for NOP on performance enhancement and served as a physician for numerous athletes in the training program, also received a four-year ban.
The USADA report also cited emails showing that Nike Inc Chief Executive Mark Parker was made aware of experiments by Brown involving AndroGel, a topical testosterone cream that is banned.
A Wall Street Journal report quoted a Nike representative who said Salazar was concerned runners “could be sabotaged by someone rubbing testosterone cream on them.”
Nike, which sponsors many high-profile runners, will stand by Salazar, Parker said on Tuesday.
The USADA did not find that he or anyone at NOP gave its athletes any banned substance and the violations were not tied to efforts to dope or cheat, he added.
Salazar was quickly stripped of his accreditation for the world athletics championships in Doha at the request of the U.S. track and field federation, the sport’s international governing body, IAAF, said in a statement.
Salazar, who was a celebrated distance runner, winning three consecutive New York City marathons starting in 1980, vowed to appeal the ban.
“I am shocked by the outcome today,” Salazar said in a statement. “My athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA.”
“The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping. I will appeal and look forward to this unfair and protracted process reaching the conclusion I know to be true.”
On Tuesday, Farah said he was relieved the investigation had ended. “I have no tolerance for anyone who breaks the rules or crosses a line,” he said.
In a statement, UK Athletics said its own 2015 investigation, which cleared Farah to work with Salazar, was “restricted to the interaction of the Nike Oregon Project with Mo Farah and not an anti-doping investigation.”
Salazar stopped coaching Farah in 2017, when the runner decided to move back to England. Farah said at the time that the doping investigation was not the reason they parted ways.
USADA said Salazar, who also coached American Olympian Matthew Centrowitz among other top distance runners, trafficked banned performance-enhancing substance testosterone to multiple athletes.
Salazar also tampered or attempted to tamper with NOP athletes’ doping control process, the agency said after concluding its four-year investigation.
Brown had emailed Nike’s chief executive Parker a decade ago about experiments on what levels of AndroGel would trigger “concern,” the USADA investigation found.
“We need to determine the minimal amount of gel that would cause a problem,” he wrote in an email dated July 7, 2009.
Parker responded, “(it) will be interesting to determine the minimal amount of topical male hormone required to create a positive test.”
The USADA said the emails pertained to efforts to prevent the sabotage of Nike athletes, who could have testosterone rubbed on them, possibly via a handshake, in a bid to have them test positive for a banned substance.
“[T]he contemporaneous emails exchanged while the testosterone experiment was ongoing support his contention that the purpose of the test was to prevent sabotage,” it added.
Several NOP members are competing in the world championships, including newly-crowned 10,000-m champion Sifan Hassan.
“I am shocked to receive the news of today’s ruling, especially during this time, in which I am fully preparing for my next race in the world championships in Doha,” the Dutch runner said in a statement.
“This investigation is focused on the period before I joined the Oregon Project and therefore has no relation to me.”
None of the athletes Salazar has worked with were mentioned in Monday’s report.
“The athletes in these cases found the courage to speak out and ultimately exposed the truth,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement.
“While acting in connection with the Nike Oregon Project, Mr. Salazar and Dr. Brown demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and wellbeing of the athletes they were sworn to protect,” Tygart added.
Salazar said he had never put winning above the athletes’ safety. “This is completely false and contrary to the findings of the arbitrators, who even wrote about the care I took in complying with the World Anti-Doping code,” he said.
Nike, which funds NOP - the nation’s most elite long-distance running training center in Portland under a $460-million, 26-year sponsorship deal with US Track and Field - said it would support Salazar’s appeal.
“Today’s decision had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete. 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,” it said.
“Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles and Gene Cherry in Doha; additional reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Clarence Fernandez