Two weekends ago, Nike’s #Breaking2 event, their (technically unofficial) attempt to break distance running’s most elusive barrier, was held. If you zoomed out beyond the race, the event, and accompanying social media campaign, seemed less about feats of athleticism and more about putting Nike’s running business back in focus for customers, for the press, and eventually, their bottom line.
But Nike’s race to the top may have just hit a snag—and it has nothing to do with breaking marathon records or marketing stunts. Alberto Salazar, a running coach backed by the brand, may have broken anti-doping protocols related to the use of L-carnitine infusions, prompting a United States Anti-Doping Agency. The report was obtained by The New York Times. According to the Times, the report states that “Salazar’s conduct here [was] patently calculating, misleading and dishonest” during his time working for The Oregon Project, a Nike-sponsored collective of runners whose website states, “Our goal is to provide the fertile training ground to develop the best distance runners in the world and our metric for success is Olympic and World Championship medals. Through rigorous training and the utilization of cutting edge sports science and performance technology we strive to re-write the book on endurance training methodology.”
According to the Times the report alleges that coach Salazar, alongside Dr. Jeffrey Stuart Brown, an endocrinologist, administered L-carnitine to runners. (It’s a substance that occurs naturally in the body and helps convert fat to energy but which a University of Nottingham in England report in 2011 found can improve athletic performance when administered extremely high levels.)
L-carnitine is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, however, the way it was allegedly used via an IV drip by runners like Dathan Ritzenhein and Tara Welling is against protocol. The Times writes, “Anti-doping rules prohibit ‘infusions and/or injections of more than 50 mL per 6 hour period except for those legitimately received in the course of hospital admissions, surgical procedures or clinical investigations.'” Thus, the quantity the report alleges “of at least 1000 mL” also would be in violation of protocols according to the Times.
The report also alleges that Salazar and Brown may have covered up what they may have known was against the rules. The Times states, “Realizing that the procedure was a breach of anti-doping rules, the report said, Salazar and Dr. Brown changed the infusion protocol.” Additionally, according to the Times, anti-doping officials claim Dr. Brown altered medical documents before submitting them, including one case in which they allege he changed a dosage number to 45 mL. Dr. Brown, via a statement through his lawyer told the Times, “I will not be bullied or coerced regardless of tactics used, and I intend to fully defend myself against any baseless allegations brought against me in any forum.” Assistant coach Steve Magness also claimed in an interview that Salazar and Brown both told him “it was good with [the United States Anti-Doping Agency] and I mistakenly trusted them.”
As of now, anti-doping officials have not announced sanctions against anyone named or possibly implicated in the report, and Nike has not responded to any of the allegations. It also is not clear from the story if New York Times requested a statement from the brand. If #Breaking2 was likely meant to inspire runners to get in a pair of Nikes, these allegations could turn out to be an ill-timed deterrent.