Review of Alberto Salazar: Doping in Athletics
Alberto Salazar’s legend was built on seemingly superhuman performances. In the 1982 Boston Marathon, he battled Dick Beardsley stride for stride for more than two hours before outkicking him in a thrilling finish dubbed the “duel in the sun.” In 1978, he collapsed after finishing the Falmouth Road Race and was administered last rites when his temperature soared to 108. In 1994, after almost a decade’s absence from competition, he won the 56-mile Comrades Marathon, a punishing test of endurance across the hot hills of South Africa.
A long-time friend of Nike founder Phil Knight, Salazar persuaded Nike that if it bankrolled his dream project, he could end the track dominance of the east Africans. If anyone could deliver this plan for Nike, it was Salazar. He was completely embedded into the company's DNA; he'd been a Nike athlete throughout his career and even had the famous Swoosh tattooed on his arm. In the grand scheme of Nike finances, athletics is small business, but an enormous part of its corporate identity. Within Nike's sprawling 286-acre Beaverton campus in Oregon, built around the man-made Lake Nike, shrines to the company's athletics pioneers are easily found. One can enter the Alberto Salazar Building, or even the six-storey Seb Coe Building. Salazar was one of the most powerful and revered coaches in the sport. He embraced the latest innovations - altitude tents fitted around the beds of his top athletes, long sessions on underwater and zero-gravity treadmills. He sought to influence every aspect of his athlete's life and left nothing to chance. His attention to detail was known to be exquisite. But by the time Farah arrived in 2011, NOP had enjoyed limited success. It had been built around Salazar's protege Galen Rupp. Salazar discovered Rupp aged 15, but so far the American had failed to deliver on the world stage. It would be Farah - 18 months later, in the 10,000m on London's Super Saturday - who would win the first Olympic title for the Oregon Project. To cap it all, Salazar's favoured athlete - Rupp - took the silver, just a few strides behind. It was Salazar's crowning moment. It was also the tipping point for the man who would ultimately help bring him down.
Proponents who encourage the use of performance enhancing drugs cry foul that their critics have exaggerated the health risks posed by the drugs. The proponents argue that the harmful effects of these drugs “…have been overstated, that health risks are an athlete’s decision to make, that using drugs is part of the evolution of sports … and that efforts to keep athletes from using drugs are overzealous, unproductive, unfairly administered, and bound to fail” (Wyler, 2008, p. 3). From their argument, the proponents of performance-enhancing drugs imply that they are not concerned about the health of the sport professionals; all they need is to enhance performance in sports. To argue that it is an individual’s decision to decide whether to use performance-enhancing drugs or not, contravenes the very core ethical values of the society. It is ethical to protect and advocate for preservation of the health conditions of sport professionals rather than leaving them at the mercy of their winning desires. The exponential trend on the use of performance enhancing-drugs among youths is quite shocking. The statistical estimates released by The National Institute on Drug Abuse reveal that, “more than a half million eighth- and tenth-grade students are using steroids, and University of Michigan study showed that between 2000 and 2004, the Nation’s eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-grade students experienced peak rates in annual anabolic steroid use” (Schieffelin, 2008, p. 970). This trend is setting a bad precedent to the young children who are aspiring to attain unrealistic achievements of their elders who are using performance-enhancing drugs.
Usually, Salazar disputed an account, corroborated by other sources, by former Oregon Project athlete Kara Goucher that Salazar had told her how he could coach Rupp to get a TUE for an IV infusion at the 2011 world championships. “Kara Goucher’s claim that someone can make a couple of statements to a doctor and get a TUE is absurd,” Salazar says in his statement. But Goucher’s contention was that Salazar explained the symptoms that Rupp would have to feign, including dehydration and an inability to drink.
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Schieffelin, N. (2007). Maintaining Educational and Athletic Integrity: How Will Schools Combat Performance Enhancing Drug Use? Suffolk University Law Review, 40(4): 959-979. Web.
Wyler, L. (2008). International Convention against Doping in Sport: Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service, 1-6.