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Ewan MacKenna: 'If Salazar's exit was a battle won, don't think the doping war hasn't long been lost'



Alberto Salazar. Photo: PA Wire

Alberto Salazar. Photo: PA Wire

Alberto Salazar. Photo: PA Wire

The 2016 Olympics were a draining experience. Not so much because of the hours, rather the quantity and quality of the bullshit at every turn.

If it wasn't the morality of a country being fleeced while the IOC lined pockets and talked about a legacy we knew was a lie, it was the sight of Pat Hickey's arse, or members of the US swim team throwing the local reputation under the bus courtesy of false claims of robbery to save their skin.

Towards the end of it, the tolerance tank was empty.

The ultimate night of competition saw Mo Farah light it up in the 5,000m and then fall over his own words at the press conference, while his wife sat amongst media scowling at those not fawning. That was the last straw. With the marathon on the final day, a miss was given. No más.

It was there that Galen Rupp was the great white hope. America may have put a man on the moon but a man on this 26-mile podium?

His similarities and links to Farah were many and disheartening. There was the Nike-Oregon connection. Via that, there was Seb Coe pointing at Russians with one hand, as he pushed away the questions about more marketable western prodigies with his other hand.

There was the whiff of superpower elitism, pretending their morality outdid the big, bad east. And then there was Alberto Salazar coaching the both of them.

Anyone who wanted to know about the real Salazar had all the information back then. 

Indeed here's a little bit of a timeline that was well out there long before this ban came about.

It's 1996 and Salazar is busy talking up his athlete Mary Decker and how she's better poised to win an Olympic medal aged 37 than ever before. No wonder, as early on that summer and a test in training sees her come up positive for testosterone.

She gets done. He walks away from it.


Alberto Salazar with two of his most successful athletes American Galen Rupp (left) and Britain’s Mo Farah. Photo: PA

Alberto Salazar with two of his most successful athletes American Galen Rupp (left) and Britain’s Mo Farah. Photo: PA

Alberto Salazar with two of his most successful athletes American Galen Rupp (left) and Britain’s Mo Farah. Photo: PA


It's 1999 and Salazar is speaking at a conference with telling words. "It is difficult to be in the top five of the world in any of the distance events without using EPO or human growth hormone," he says. "I can definitely understand how a good moral person might be compelled."

It's 2002 and Salazar allegedly practices what he preached. As Steve Magness, Salazar's former assistant coach, revealed to BBC in 2015, files supplied by the Nike laboratory to Salazar show a 16-year-old Galen Rudd's testosterone levels spiking.

It's 2012 and Salazar is celebrating the one-two of Mo Farah and Rupp at the London Olympics. Magness has seen those Rupp documents though, so he quits as his conscience gets the better of him. He writes to USADA.

It's 2013 and Salazar, unaware Magness is a whistle-blower, still corners his former compatriot at a Diamond League meeting and threatens him. "Buddy, you talking to anyone?" he growls.

It's 2015 and the superb journalist Mark Daly in a Panorama expose goes deeper. Former athlete Kara Goucher opens up about how Salazar's hand-writing is on thyroid medication she didn't need or want but he insisted she take it.

We learn Salazar has told athletes he'd keep them in the "normal range" through micro-dosing.

We're told he used his son as a guinea pig for testosterone, in order to see how much would trigger a positive reading.

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It's announced by a former masseuse that Salazar asked him to bring a tube of Androgel (testosterone) from a training camp, before claiming it was all good as he himself used it for a heart condition. Medics rubbished this claim and said you'd never use it for this.

On and on went the support from key stakeholders though. It still does it seems.

This goes all the way up and down a slimy ladder, as many engage in their latest bout of protectionism and opportunism.

All with themselves rather than athletics heavy in their minds.

Salazar may be gone for now - his ban is for fours years based on crimes in this sphere as bad as they come, what with the trafficking of testosterone, interfering with the doping control process, administering prohibited IV infusions, and giving athletes medication unnecessarily to the point of actually endangering them - and while hardly a scapegoat, too many are getting a free pass.

He’s the tip of this iceberg. So join us. Down the rabbit hole we go.

* * *


On Thursday, a Santry-based employee heading into one of the company's support centres that aims to find lost packages was greeted by an email from overall Nike CEO Mark Parker.

If it reached here, then it reached all of their global employees and in it he talked about the ways in which Salazar was innocent and how they'd fight all this. Despite the facts, they are refusing to accept them.

Winning pays.

Winning right is for those without a share price.

This is the head of the track and field snake and, long before Salazar came along and turned around their programme, Nike’s history has been anywhere from shady to downright odious.

Before the Nike Oregon Project for instance, there was Athletics West - a running team that was originally formed in 1977 by Nike's founding members Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight.


The famous Nike 'swoosh'

The famous Nike 'swoosh'

The famous Nike 'swoosh'


'Swoosh - The Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There' was co-written by Julie Strasser - Nike's first advertising director and wife to Robert, the marketing genius behind their rise - and in it she quotes insurance records detailing testosterone and liver function tests undertaken by Athletics West athletes to study the physiological effects of steroids.

Athletics West was eventually dismantled. Over and out.

One coach in America close to Nike over recent years include doper Dennis Mitchell.

You can now add Salazar to their snag list, as not only have they stood by him despite what we knew long before, but it seems they are standing by him despite what the FBI have now proven. They remain the cornerstone of athletics.

They aren't going anywhere.

* * *


Remember when Lord Coe took over the IAAF and spent weeks and then months refusing to walk away from his Nike advisory role, despite the clear and massive conflict of interest.

Remember then how Nike's hometown of Eugene was directly awarded the 2021 World Championships when it was suddenly decided to completely do away with a bidding vote.

Ah, the memories.

Of course Coe knew Salazar too and actually and openly described him as "a good friend" no matter what new evidence seeped out.

We shouldn't be surprised for the man that continues to lead track and field can only be described as a buffoon at best, and his praise for those that have also been buffoons at their very best shows no signs of stalling. It’s not what you know.

A history lesson.

In 2013, a leaked email from Coe's close confidant Nick Davis (then IAAF deputy general secretary before being appointed Coe's chief of staff) saw him actively talk about a cover-up of Russian cheating ahead of the 2013 World Championships.


Lord Coe

Lord Coe

Lord Coe

"This will require specialist PR skills (working only with me directly) from London, but I believe we can also benefit from Seb's political influence in the UK. It is in his personal interest to ensure that the Moscow World Champs is a success and that people do not think that the media of his own country are trying to destroy it... We can work extremely hard in stopping any planned 'attack' on Russia from the British press."

Davis stepped down from his position in the IAAF as a result.

No comment.

By early in August of 2014, an email came to Coe with attachments detailing how IAAF officials extorted €420,000 from Russian runner Liliya Shobukhova in exchange for covering up her failed doping tests.

On holidays in Marrakesh to mark his sister's 50th birthday, and a technophobe, his office handled the message but when he returned he had a conversation with the sender, London marathon manager David Bedford, about the allegations and evidence.

The mail was also forwarded to Michael Beloff of the IAAF's ethics board with whom Coe then spoke. Except he claims, in all this time, and across the months that followed, he never once opened the attachments or knew the details.

This despite another email to Beloff where he typed: "I have in the last couple of days received copied documentation of serious allegations being made by and on behalf of the Russian female athlete Shobukhova from David Bedford. The purpose of this note is of course to advise you that I have now been made aware of the allegations."

No comment.

By 2015, we know thanks to Fancy Bears leaks that his countryman Farah - a Nike athlete under Salazar - came up with the most serious warning flag in testing documents.

It read beside his name: "Likely doping. Passport suspicious. Further data is required." Coincidence or not, six months on another IAAF in-house email stated that his results “very recently became 'normal'”.

No comment.

And now that his old pal Salazar over with his good friends in Nike are in big trouble? He’s called for the disassociation of athletes from him but said nothing about the project or his past stances. Salazar's been weeded out but the figurehead isn't going anywhere.

* * *


Mo Farah has been the miracle man of not just British athletics, but of British sport.

From 2006 to 2010, he may have won three continental titles, and he may have come sixth and seventh at the World Championships, but this was way off where he'd finally end up. During that period he even failed to reach the Olympic final on the sole occasion he gave it a go.

By 2011 though, he moved to the Nike Oregon Project at age of 28, and it was there that Salazar got a hold of him.

Farah has since said the coach's brilliance extended to convincing him fast food was bad and to work harder and smarter on his core in the gym.

Such heroic changes brought six world titles, four Olympic golds, eight British records, three European records, and a world record on the way to becoming arguably the greatest male distance runner in history.

Little wonder then that Farah is the pin-up boy of their athletics establishment.


Mo Farah

Mo Farah

Mo Farah


But now?

We've been there with him before but what about his bosses this week?

For Farah has been caught out with a host of associations to dirty coaches, including the disgraced Jama Aden.

By 2016, UK Athletics were under pressure and claimed they didn't use Aden that year at all except, as early as February 2016, Aden's Facebook page showed him in Africa coaching right next to UK Director of Endurance, Barry Fudge. They fell silent on that one.

But Salazar shows them up once more for their connections and this has to have repercussions.

Despite the questions, and the open knowledge, around Salazar dating back long before this ban, in 2013 his efforts with Farah saw UK Athletics performance director Neil Black bring him on board as a paid consultant.

The stories seeped out at a faster rate over the following years yet it wasn’t until 2017 that they parted company with him. Worse again, Black was there to defend Salazar and is on record as saying that he didn't expect he’d have a case to answer for.

So where's he this week?

There's more. For while the real investigation into Salazar was going on, to cover themselves UK Athletics did their own little investigation.

Led by their president Jason Gardener and board director Sarah Rowell, they didn't see any reason whatsoever to terminate his contract either.

So where are they this week?

And while we are at it, where's Farah this week? 

* * *


It's a couple of years now since a call came from BBC Five Live who had put together a panel to talk about Farah and Coe. 

On it was Paula Radcliffe and, not surprisingly, she wasn't having a bad word said about either of her mates. She shot down any and many suspicious links around the athlete. Meanwhile around the administrator she noted journalists behaved "like a pack of dogs" in going after him.

"Obtuse," she proceeded to call me for throwing some facts at her bluster.

Off air afterwards, a friend that works there said it was a mistake on my part as there are some untouchables in their sport. Turns out Radcliffe, Coe and Farah in a sitting was like a lad in rural Ireland in the ’60s bemoaning the father, son and holy ghost. They haven't called since. Their loss.

By the end of that week a Tweet arrived from Radcliffe reading: "My opinion's always based on the integrity and behaviour people display and it's rarely wrong".


Paula Radcliffe Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Paula Radcliffe Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Paula Radcliffe Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images


Over at the BBC public relations effort at the World Championships in Doha, and with news of Salazar breaking, she went on yet another bizarre rant.

"Because no athletes have been sanctioned, have real anti-doping violations been transgressed by an athlete?" she asked herself.

"I don't think so as otherwise we would have seen athletes banned at this point,” she answered. “That's what a lot of people were waiting for. We were talking about how long this investigation has gone on, how much money went into it, and people were waiting for something big."

For someone who claimed to be about anti-doping, her defence of athletes around a doping coach and doping truths was remarkable.

Then again this is someone who, as an athlete herself in 2001, staged a personal protest against a cheating Russian and was threatened with removal from the stadium, yet years later had her name on a leaked list of those with suspicious values and threatened reporters around publishing.

Her midweek words weren't the end of that story as questions were raised around BBC transparency. 

They'd failed to inform that Radcliffe is sponsored by Nike and married to Farah's coach.

Salazar's gone, but it seems her and their attitude to all this won’t be going anywhere either.

* * *

It's been rightfully said by many experts in athletics, and across other sports, that when an athlete dopes too often the support network that makes this possible get a free pass. But when a coach is doping, it shouldn't end with just them either. The stench travels far and wide.

If that seems harsh, it's really not for put all of the above on a white board, link them to each other, and what you have is a cluttered web via a serious amount of back scratching and hand shaking and sorry defences of now proven actions over the years.

Even if this comes across as a win for anti-doping, try not to get too excited for them either.

After all, where were WADA across all of this, other than their former president Dick Pound highlighting how perfect Seb Coe was for the role of IAAF president despite his findings into the doping corruption that had been taking place while Coe was sitting at the top table?


USADA Chief Executive, Travis Tygart.

USADA Chief Executive, Travis Tygart.

USADA Chief Executive, Travis Tygart.


Where have UK Anti-Doping been across all of this, considering a well-placed source tells us that as far back as 2011, when Farah got involved with Salazar, a doctor spoke to them raising serious  concerns over the coach and showing their facts, yet this we're told was buried?

Where have USADA and Travis Tygart been across all of this, despite now reaching centre stage to grab all the praise?

Fifteen years of testing did nothing and now he wants the praise for an investigation that took the FBI to do the dirty work?

In their case and in his, this reminds of claiming the scalp of Lance Armstrong when they did so much wrong, ruined lives in the process, ignored the information they had that could and should have brought far more people down with him and sooner, and still relied on the Feds to bring that episode to its conclusion. It applies here too.

With Salazar gone there's some small sense of victory, but look beyond him as so many more need to go too. 

They haven't and they won't though. 

Therefore if this was a battle won, don't think the war hasn't long been lost.

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