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‘This Doesn’t Sound Legal’: Inside Nike’s Oregon Project

Salazar has emphatically denied violating antidoping rules. He has said that he and his athletes closely followed all protocols established by antidoping authorities.

But in the report, antidoping officials depicted Salazar as a medicine chest whose door swung open for the world-class athletes on Nike’s payroll. They said he provided or helped gain access to prescription-dose vitamin D; calcitonin; ferrous sulfate; Advair; testosterone; and various thyroid medications. Many of the drugs have no proven benefits for runners.

The antidoping agency began investigating Salazar and the Oregon Project in 2015, after former team members and a staff member described cheating within the program in a report by the BBC and ProPublica.

United States antidoping officials now believe that Salazar and a Texas endocrinologist administered an infusion procedure in violation of antidoping rules, colluded to cover it up and then lied to their athletes about its legality.

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The United States Anti-Doping Agency tried unsuccessfully last year to obtain a deposition from Dr. Jeffrey S. Brown, an endocrinologist in Houston. His lawyer called it a “fishing expedition.”

Credit
Eric Kayne

“Salazar’s conduct here is patently calculating, misleading and dishonest,” the antidoping officials wrote in the report, which was drafted in March 2016 as an appeal to the Texas Medical Board to compel the release of the endocrinologist’s medical files.

Salazar, who refused to cooperate with the antidoping agency’s investigation, did not respond to interview requests. Nike declined to respond to questions about the report.

Ritzenhein declined to comment on specifics of his time with Salazar, instead deferring to his sworn testimony in the report, in which he and other athletes described an environment in which they felt immense pressure to do as their coach instructed or lose their livelihoods.

The Nike athletes, the report said, “were acutely aware that these opportunities could be withdrawn at Alberto Salazar’s discretion and were dependent both upon Salazar’s favor and their own athletic performance.”

“These facts created huge pressure to conform to Salazar’s wishes and use substances and training methods advocated by him.”

A Start With Supplements

For Ritzenhein, getting a contract with Nike in 2004 was the culmination of years of hard work. “It’s every kid’s dream to sign a professional contract,” he said in a recent phone interview.

He moved to Oregon in 2007 but did not start working directly with Salazar and the Oregon Project until June 2009. He told antidoping officials that as soon as he joined…

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