Alberto Salazar recap: Claims, fall-out, Farah & what next?

Alberto Salazar
Alberto Salazar trains athletes at Nike's Oregon Project in Beaverton

For a fortnight in the UK, the story of the chemical shortcuts an American coach and his American athlete may have taken a decade ago has been the only story that has threatened Fifa's position in the sporting scandal stakes.

And yet in the mainstream US sports media…tumbleweeds and the sound of crickets.

That can largely be explained by the fact that the coach in question, Alberto Salazar, also looks after Britain's double Olympic champion Mo Farah and works for UK Athletics on a consultancy basis.

So, while Farah has not been accused of any wrongdoing at all, this is a big deal for us. It may have implications for one of our most successful international stars - a hero of London 2012's "Super Saturday" - and the publicly funded governing body of one of our biggest participation sports.

But the disparity in coverage on either side of the Atlantic is also why this story is so important.

Major US media outlets have largely given up on track and field for the 207 weeks between the flurries of medals American athletes can usually be expected to win at Olympics. Even then the interest is not what it was.

That is what a succession of doping scandals - from Marion Jones to Justin Gatlin - will do to you and it is why what happens next is so crucial for the sport's future in this country and elsewhere.

But before we get to that, let us recap on a drama rich in actors but poor in answers.

What was claimed?

On 3 June, the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary by reporter Mark Daly called "Catch Me If You Can".

A joint venture with the US investigative journalism specialists ProPublica, the programme aired allegations about the historic and current abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in athletics, and the ineffectiveness of the anti-doping system.

But it was the allegations levelled against Salazar that provoked the most reaction.

The documentary aired testimony from half a dozen former athletes and staff members at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) who claimed Salazar's competitive zeal and interest in science had led him to cross a line, most notably in the case of his protege Galen Rupp, the American who came second to Farah in the 10,000m at London 2012.

Who is Alberto Salazar?
Age: 56
Born: Havana, Cuba (emigrated to US as a child)
Achievements: Three-time New York Marathon winner (1980, 1981, 1982), Boston Marathon winner (1982), US Outdoor Track & Field 10,000m champion (1981, 1983), US Cross Country Champion (1979), National Distance Runner's Hall of Fame inductee (2000), represented US at 1984 Olympics in LA

Ex-NOP coach Steve Magness gave Panorama and ProPublica a photo of a lab report he had seen in the office he shared with Salazar in 2010 that said Rupp had been on prednisone and testosterone medication in 2002.

Prednisone is a corticosteroid used to treat allergies and asthma, and testosterone is an anabolic hormone.

The former is permissible under anti-doping rules, providing there is clear medical need, as is the latter, but it is difficult to think why a 16-year-old would need testosterone yet still be healthy enough to be a national-standard athlete.

As the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) chief executive David Howman said: "You would have to be pretty exceptionally sick [to be granted permission to use testosterone], and even then I would say the doctors would be more inclined to say you probably should be resting rather than competing in a big-time sport."

Salazar denies giving Rupp testosterone, and Rupp denies ever taking it. The coach told the BBC that this was a mistake by the doctor and it should have read "Testaboost", a supplement that is meant to increase testosterone legally.

Magness, who quit NOP shortly before London 2012, also said he had concerns about attempts made to circumvent tests and the misuse of prescription drugs. These claims were backed up by Kara and Adam Goucher, two runners who also left the group, an unnamed former NOP athlete and John Stiner, a former staff member.

What has been the fall-out?

Daly finished the documentary by saying he knew of at least seven former athletes and staff who had complained to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) about Salazar's methods, and by showing Magness's evidence to Wada.

There has been no official reaction from Usada - it never discusses investigations - while Wada has issued statements to confirm its concern and desire to know more.

That is also the tone of the response from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport's global governing body, which now shares with Usada the responsibility of investigating the substance of the claims against Salazar and Rupp - claims they both strongly deny.

Nike, Salazar's employer and arguably the most powerful player in the sport, has so far said little but did re-issue the firm rebuttals made by the two men at the centre of the storm. There is no suggestion that the sportswear giant was aware of the alleged wrongdoing or is anyway involved in it.

Alberto Salazar, Cam Levins, Matthew Centrowitz, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp
Salazar, far left, with four of his Nike Oregon Project stars: Cam Levins, Matthew Centrowitz, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp

The situation at trackside, however, is very different, with athletes and coaches talking about little else, albeit not always publicly.

Two of the most significant contributions have come from former NOP runner Josh Rohatinsky and John Cook, a veteran US coach who helped Salazar set up his Oregon base.

In a long post on his Facebook page, Rohatinsky said he believed the allegations and described a "wall of separation" between Salazar and Rupp and the rest of the group.

Cook, meanwhile, told the BBC that he fell out with Salazar over the use of asthma drugs he felt many athletes did not really need.

On Friday, ProPublica's David Epstein published a story that said the total of ex-NOP athletes and staff members to flag up their concerns about Salazar to Usada now totals 17.

Where does this leave Farah?

The 32-year-old is the only current member of the NOP group, which is based at Nike's global headquarters near Portland, to face the full glare of the media since the story broke.

This came in a highly-charged news conference on the eve of the Birmingham Grand Prix, a Diamond League meeting he was meant to close in glorious fashion.

Unfortunately, but understandably, he pulled out of the event at short notice, saying he was returning to the US to ask Salazar some urgent questions.

He also said he felt his name had been unfairly dragged into this story and claimed he had never witnessed any wrongdoing by Salazar, Rupp or anybody else at NOP, the training group that took him from being a nearly-man in early 2011 to near legendary status within the sport in 2015.

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Mo Farah angry at 'being dragged through mud'

Farah has not spoken since Birmingham but did apologise to fans for his no-show on Facebook last week, and said he was feeling "more upbeat" about things.

This, however, has not answered the question of whether it would be wiser for him to distance himself from Salazar and his training partner Rupp until this situation is resolved one way or another.

British team-mate Jo Pavey said she would "run a mile" if she were in Farah's position, while UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner has said his personal view is that it would be sensible to take a break from Salazar's camp with the World Championships in Beijing approaching fast.

But other voices, British Olympic champion Darren Campbell, for example, have pointed out the disruption to his training that this could cause and have noted Farah's loyalty to men who are innocent unless proven guilty.

What is UK Athletics doing?

As mentioned above, UKA chairman Warner has voiced his fears about the reputational damage Farah risks by his association with Salazar.

But from an organisational point of view nothing has changed in terms of UKA's relationship with Salazar and NOP.

That may change, though, in August, which is when the three-strong "performance oversight group", set up by Warner and chief executive Niels de Vos to look at UKA's links to Salazar, reports back.

One of the key mysteries for former sprinter Jason Gardener, ex-British marathon record-holder Dr Sarah Rowell and Paralympian Anne Wafula-Strike to unravel is how much "due diligence" UKA did when it agreed to let Farah join NOP in 2011, and then again when it gave Salazar a consultancy role in 2013.

After all, the BBC demonstrated last week that Salazar had been, at the very least, one of Mary Slaney's coaches at the time the American middle-distance queen failed a test for elevated levels of testosterone at the US Olympic trials in 1996.

Slaney has always denied doping, blaming her birth control pills for the elevated reading, and her lawyers vigorously argued that the case against her should never have been brought. But it was and she was eventually given a two-year ban and stripped of a silver medal from the 1997 world indoor championships.

Slaney's case is something Farah said he had asked Salazar about in 2011 with the American telling him he was not her coach at that time, and UKA's former head of endurance Ian Stewart categorically told The Daily Mail last week that Salazar had never coached Slaney.

This is not what contemporary accounts, witnesses and Salazar's autobiography say.

His position with UKA is unpaid but the BBC understands that UKA's performance director Neil Black and new head of endurance Barry Fudge are regular visitors to Oregon, as are several development coaches.

What next for Salazar?

Alberto Salazar
Salazar is best known for his exploits in big-city marathons but he was also a US cross country star and won a silver medal at the 1982 World Cross Country Championships

The Cuban-born coach has known about these allegations for six weeks, having received them as part of the right-to-reply process.

Since the documentary's broadcast he has restated the forceful denials he gave the BBC and ProPublica, dismissing the allegations as "false assumptions and half-truths" to "further personal agendas".

He has also told newspapers that he is preparing a thorough rebuttal of all the claims made against him and its arrival is imminent.

There has already been some support for him, with IAAF presidential candidate and Olympic legend Lord Coe telling the BBC in London last Sunday that we should expect a "stout defence" from his "good friend", while two current NOP athletes, American Shannon Rowbury and Canada's Cam Levins, told reporters at a track meet in Oregon this weekend that they had seen nothing to make them doubt Salazar's commitment to clean sport.

They also said he was a great coach, which is certainly the view of his many admirers.

One of the best marathon runners of the 1980s, Salazar makes no secret of his interest in cutting-edge training methods, many of which he was using himself towards the end of his career.

Having initially hoped to spark a revival in US marathon running, he shifted his focus to trying to knock East Africa off its perch on the track.

That Saturday night in London, when Farah led home Rupp in an NOP one-two, was the moment that a decade of hard work and Nike money paid off, and it led him to being named IAAF coach of the year in 2013.

For that achievement to stand the test of time he will need his defence to be as stout as Coe predicted.

Alberto Salazar and Allison Roe
Salazar after winning the second of three straight New York Marathon titles in 1981 - his time appeared to be a world record only for the course to be re-measured and found to be 148 metres short

Where does the sport go from here?

This is probably a better question for the British Olympic Association chairman than Salazar, Farah or anybody else caught up in this farrago, as Coe hopes to become the IAAF's next boss in August.

His rival in the presidential contest is Ukrainian pole vault great Sergey Bubka and both men have promised to make anti-doping a priority.

But what else could they say after the year or so that athletics has had?

Still wobbling from the Balco and Trevor Graham scandals that blighted a generation of sprinters a decade ago, the sport has been hit by waves of positive tests from three powerhouse nations: Jamaica, Kenya and Russia.

The last of those has been the most serious as it appears to be the most extensive, with allegations of collusion that go right to the top of the sport.

As outlined at the beginning, track and field is sinking in the US, certainly in terms of media coverage. There is a very real risk it could go the same way in Europe, if it has not already started to happen.

When the BBC started to line up athletes for reaction to the documentary in the days just before its broadcast the first question was nearly always: "Is this the thyroid thing?" They had not seen the programme at this point, or heard what was in it, but the sport's jungle telegraph had been busy, with some lines getting crossed.

What followed would be at least a 10-minute conversation about the various loopholes that each athlete had heard that somebody else was exploiting - the level of distrust within the sport was frightening.

Coe did not like the comparison with cycling's recent past when it was put to him last week, saying the two situations - athletics now, cycling a decade ago - were "very, very different".

He might be right - and as former British sprinter Craig Pickering wrote in an excellent blog, there are a lot of clean athletes out there - but if the sport does not get a handle on what is and is not fair game it will get harder and harder to tell the difference.