Nike has decided to shut down its Oregon Project, the elite training group run for years by Alberto Salazar.
The move comes 10 days after Salazar was barred for four years from the sport of distance running for doping violations by the United States Anti-Doping Agency
The penalty stemmed from violations that included trafficking in testosterone, tampering with the doping control process and administering improper infusions of L-carnitine, a naturally occurring substance that converts fat into energy.
Salazar has vowed to appeal the ban and just last week, Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive, announced that the company was standing behind Salazar, a marathon champion in his 20s and the leading figure in American distance running in the modern era.
In an internal letter released Thursday, however, Parker explained that keeping the Oregon Project in operation during the appeal was no longer tenable. “The situation, along with the unsubstantiated assertions, is a distraction for many of the athletes and is compromising their ability to focus on their training and competition needs,” he said.
Nike’s decision to close the project was first reported by Bloomberg.
Parker stated that Nike would continue to fund Salazar’s appeal. “A four-year suspension for someone who acted in good faith is wrong,” Parker wrote.
Parker, however, is hardly a neutral source. According to emails, cited in the decision from the American Arbitration Association upholding Salazar’s four-year ban, between Salazar, Parker and Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Houston endocrinologist the Oregon Project used to treat its athletes, Parker was looped in on experiments that were conducted to determine the amount of testosterone an athlete could absorb using a lotion without testing positive for the banned substance.
Parker said last week, also in a letter to employees, that the test was conducted because Salazar was concerned that rivals might sabotage his athletes after a race. USADA officials have disputed that explanation, saying that it is disingenuous and that the goal of the test was to determine how athletes could get away with cheating.