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Cathal Dennehy: 'Salazar once emailed Lance Armstrong: 'Call me! We've tested it and it's amazing''



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

Everyone knew. Coaches knew. Agents knew. Athletes knew. If anyone moving in the top circles of athletics tries to claim otherwise, it's because they weren't willing to see or they didn't want to listen.

Stick around this sport long enough and you learn what makes sense and what doesn't. The story of Alberto Salazar, of the Nike Oregon Project, was always a fairy tale.

Listen to athletes who trained with that group. While your eyebrows might raise at how they worked so hard, so often, they would soon furrow when you asked yourself the obvious question: how did they recover?

How, for example, could one of the sport's top distance runners be peeled off the track one day, finishing his workout with a scorching final 400m, then get up the next morning and run 10 miles in just over 50 minutes?

But now we have our answer: Alberto Salazar is a cheat. The man presiding over the most successful dynasty in world athletics of the last decade, the man backed and supported by Nike at every turn - who worked right under their noses at the firm's headquarters in Oregon - is a fraud.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found not one but three violations to finally do what every honest person in athletes had long wanted - get rid of Salazar, take apart his web of deception.

The 61-year-old got a four-year ban for trafficking testosterone, tampering with his athletes' doping control process, and administering a prohibited method via infusions of L-carnitine, a supplement he had come to love in recent years, once emailing Lance Armstrong: "Call me ASAP! We have tested it and it's amazing!"

As amazing, I'm sure, as the transformations Salazar oversaw. As amazing as the tales of his athletes working harder, smarter, than their rivals. As amazing as the myriad ways Salazar found to go right up to the line of legality but not, according to him, over it.

But the truth was there all along. You just had to look. Two years before he set up the Nike Oregon Project, Salazar gave a talk to the Duke University Law Review and said it was "difficult to be among the top five in the world in any of the distance events without using EPO or human growth hormone".

He knew the lay of the land. During his career he was a member of Athletics West, a group in which former members say doping was widespread. Salazar was coach to US star Mary Slaney when she tested positive in 1996 for testosterone - the same substance he trafficked years later.

At a press conference in 2015 I asked Mo Farah, one of Salazar's star students, and Neil Black, the head of British Athletics, if his record with Slaney was a concern when they agreed for Farah to join the Oregon Project in 2011. Both said they looked into it and were told he wasn't coaching Slaney at the time, a claim easily disproved.

Black described Salazar as a 'genius', and UK Athletics kept him as a consultant for its endurance programme despite all that was known.

All it would have taken was to call someone like Kara Goucher or Steve Magness, an athlete and coach who worked under Salazar and not only saw through his deception, but had the courage to tell the world about it.

It's heroes like them we should listen to this week, not the sycophants who sold us a lie, those now doing their best to rewrite history.

The sport's name has, again, been dragged through the dirt, but this was exactly what most in athletics had wanted. One rival coach was exultant when he heard the news here in Doha on Monday night, knowing he would no longer have to face an unfair fight.

If Salazar can fall, then no cheat will feel safe. He was the godfather of new-age, sophisticated and fiendishly hard-to-catch doping. One who finally got what he deserved. Good riddance.

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