In 1987, on the final night of the World Champs of Track & Field in Rome, my boss at Runner’s World, George Hirsch, hosted a celebratory dinner at this cool ristorante, right on the Tigris River. At that dinner was Frank Shorter, the ’72 Olympic marathon gold medalist, a close friend of Hirsch’s, who – I believe – was in town doing commentary for NBC. I don’t remember the exact context of the discussion, but I do recall clear as a bell that Shorter told me and everyone there who cared to listen that every athlete in Rome was on some type of performance-enhancement drug or another.
When I jokingly mentioned at least one American distance runner who I knew wasn’t on drugs – a deeply religious guy who is now a top college coach – Shorter’s reply was simple: “Are you kidding? He’d do anything to win.”
So would Alberto Salazar.
Salazar has been implicated by the BBC and author David Epstein (one of the investigative journalists who took down Lance Armstrong) as being at the center of a systematic drug protocol of the Nike Oregon Project which he heads. I haven’t seen the entire BBC program on this, but have seen the testimony of former NOP assistant coach Steve Magness (now, the distance coach at the University of Houston) and the emotional interview with former Salazar runner Kara Goucher who claimed that Salazar wanted her to take a banned substance to lose weight after giving birth to her son.
As Don Henley (of the Eagles) so famously once said: “That shit don’t float.”
In this case, it’s Salazar’s. Although Alberto has attacked the “reporters” who have brought this mess to the forefront, I can guarantee one thing: It won’t go away. Just like the allegations against Armstrong were well known for years and never went away, this won’t either.
I have known Salazar for more than 35 years in a much deeper way than mere journalist-athlete. We were friends. I stayed at his home many times, knew his family and traveled with him. I was part of his inner circle and, at the height of his running (1981-83), was one of the few journalists he ever talked to. He confided in me many times about a variety of things (not all running-related) in many late-night phone calls.
When his running began to go in the dumpster (starting with his loss to Toshiko Seko in the 1983 Fukuoka Marathon and continuing through the ’84 Olympic Trials and Olympics), he was frantic to get back to his former self and would often call me with one new fix or another. I can still hear him: “This is it! Without a doubt.” There was always something just around the corner and it isn’t fair for me to recount them all.
It pains me deeply to say this, but the current allegations against Alberto ring true. At least to me they do. Sadly, he told me about the use of so many of these drugs before – especially asthma and Prozac medications. There were others that he told me about over the years that I’m not going to mention.
It also pains me to point out the similarities between these allegations and Armstrong’s case. I don’t know Armstrong, but if you believe what has transpired he was a win-at-all-costs guy and so was Salazar. Even back in college, it used to kill Alberto (at the University of Oregon) to get beat by the Kenyans of Washington State (and later other Kenyans) who he believed were on untraceable EPO.
Like a lot of people, he didn’t believe the drug allegations against Armstrong and, when Armstrong ran the ’86 New York City Marathon, Salazar gave him workouts and even paced him for the first 10 miles (although that 6:50 pace nearly killed Alberto). I don’t know this, but I believe he found a kindred spirit in Armstrong who isn’t exactly a great character reference.
Anyway, over the years, I found myself constantly defending Salazar against all sorts of things: boorish behavior, overtraining (himself and later his runners), bullying other runners and the growing suspicion of drug usage when he was competing and now among his team.
I can’t defend him anymore. Every single drug allegation I can think of in the last 20 years (baseball, track, cycling, ad nauseum) has been later either proved to be true or admitted to (see McGwire, ARod, Marion Jones, Armstrong, Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin, Ben Johnson and so on). I just hate to see Salazar’s name mixed up with people like that, but that’s his new reality.
We haven’t had much contact over the past decade and I miss hearing from my friend. We’ve exchanged a few emails, Christmas cards, a phone call every now and then but not much else. The last time we spoke was at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston and but it was just fleeting and a promise to get together soon next time I was in Portland.
That’s never happened. Still, I’ll never abandon my friend. I hope this will blow over, but it’s hard to believe that it will. It almost never happens until the athlete or coach is tarred and feathered.
My fear is that they have Salazar dead to rights and the implications for track (and Salazar’s athletes) are as far-reaching as Armstrong’s transgressions were.
It sickens me.
O One more thing on drugs: I was disgusted watching the Prefontaine Meet telecast on Saturday. I mean, the meet was fine, but it seemed like every other athlete (especially the sprinters) had been suspended for drug usage at one time or another. Biggest joke of the meet was the post-race interview with Tyson Gay who said after he won the 100 meters at Pre that his use of performance-enhancing drugs was just a “mistake”. Failure to tie your shoelaces properly before a race is a mistake. Taking steroids is a deliberate attempt to cheat. Tyson got caught and it cost him an Olympic silver medal as well as his presumably innocent 4 x 100 relay members. BTW: Justlin Gatlin, another sprinter who tested positive and served his suspension, won the 200.
O More Pre Meet: Texas Ex Sanya Richards-Ross placed second to Allyson Felix in the 400 meters in 50.29. In the 5000 won by Genzebe Dibaba in an insane 14:19, Sally Kipyego (formerly of Texas Tech) was fourth in 14:47 and former Longhorn Marielle Hall was ninth in 15:23. Former Austinite Lopez Lomong was ninth in a heat of the mile in 3:59.06 and Leo (The Lion) Manzano, coached by John Hayes, Lomong’s former coach, got pushed around and boxed in and finished 11th in the Bowerman Mile in 3:53.55.
O Over at Mike Myers at the NCAA West Prelimaries, UT qualified enough athletes for the NCAA Champs in Eugene (June 10-13) to make both the men’s and women’s teams threat for a title. A total of 21 Longhorns (nine men; 12 women) will compete in Eugene, including distance runners Sandie Raines (5000) and Craig Lutz in the 10,000.
O In the Ranch 30-K – the final race of the 12th annual Rogue Trail three-race series – David Fuentes led the field in 1:57:35, followed by ultraman Paul Terranova (training for Western States, later this month) in 2:16:21 and Ryder Clayton in third in 2:19:16. Top woman was 40-year-old Keri Rimel in 2:44:37 with Kailey Gursoy next in 2:47:30 and Rachelle Layman third in 2:47:42.
O Cate Barrett won the women’s division of the accompanying 10-K in the Rogue series and her time of 44:32 was only two seconds off the men’s winning time of Tom Nailen. It was a tuneup for her as she is running in the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville this weekend.
O At last night’s Luke’s Locker Driveway Summer Series, John Anderson was the overall winner in 21:30, Gary Metcalf (Mr. Cadence) was second in 21:39 and Brad Derthick was third in 21:40. Women’s winner was Kate Taylor in 22:04, followed by Anja Marie in 24:33 and Susie Wasson in 24:55.
O We’re losing Erin Ruyle who has done so much for running in Georgetown as a race organizer (she worked six years for Parks & Rec), coach and racer. Erin’s moving to North Carolina to work in marketing and special events for campus rec at Duke University. Wonder if she can get basketball tickets to Cameron Indoor.
O Iron woman Andrea Fisher hasn’t raced Kona in three years, but she’s going to give a go and try qualify for Hawaii at Couer D’Alene on June 28th. Now a single mom of two girls after her divorce from Jamie Cleveland, Fish is also planning to run the Beer Mile World Champs in San Francisco in August. Andrea, the masters swim coach and aquatics manager at the Jewish Center, told Slowtwitch.com, “I’m not quite sure how to mix Ironman training with beer mile training but I’m guessing I’ll figure it out somehow.” No doubt about that.
O Sad to report on two deaths this week in the running world: Pat Peterson and Merrill Noden. Peterson, a native New Yorker, placed in the top 4 at the New York City Marathon three times in the ’80s and had a PR of 2:10:04 in 1989. Peterson died Sunday at the age of 55 from pancreatic cancer. Closer to home for me was the death this week of Merrill Noden from brain cancer. Merrill, who ran at Princeton, was a former writer who covered track for Sports Illustrated, was a good friend of mine who I spent a lot of time with on the roads. You’d be hard-pressed to meet a friendlier, more talented guy than Merrill.
O Former world-class road runner Mark Curp is battling non Hodgkins lymphona in Kansas City. One of the toughest runners of the ’80s, Curp held the world half marathon record for five years which he set in 1985 in Philly with a time of 1:00:55. That time stood as the American record until 2007 when Ryan Hall finally broke it at Aramco Houston.
O Running USA reports that for the first time, the number of Americans who finished a half marathon in a year topped two million. Last year, 2,046,600 of us finished a half which is an increase of 80,000 from ’13. Sixty-one percent of those finishers were women. Of the 15 largest half-marathons in the U.S., five are Rock ‘n’ Roll Races (none in Texas).
O What I’m listening to this morning: “Pet Sounds“, one of my two favorite Beach Boys albums (the other is “Holland” ).
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