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Runner Mary Cain sues former coach Alberto Salazar and Nike for $ 20 million over alleged abuse


Long-distance runner Mary cain, whose career fizzled out after what she called four miserable years at the Nike Oregon Project, filed a $ 20 million lawsuit against her former trainer, Alberto Salazar, and their employer, Nike.

Cain accused Salazar of emotionally abusing her when she joined the team in 2012 at the age of 16, The Oregonian / OregonLive reported. The lawsuit portrayed Salazar as an angry control freak who was obsessed with Cain’s weight and publicly humiliated her about it.

This, she said, had an impact on her physical and mental health. Nike knew but did not intervene, according to the lawsuit.

Runner Mary Cain sues former coach Alberto Salazar and Nike for $ 20 million over alleged abuse
In this April 29, 2016 file photo, Mary Cain walks off the track after competing in the women’s 1,500-meter special race at the Drake Relays track meet in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Nike did not return the newspaper messages seeking comment. Salazar could not be reached but previously denied the abuse allegations and said neither Cain nor her parents raised any concerns while she was in the program.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Cain alleges that Salazar repeatedly asked her to climb a ladder in front of the others and then criticize her. Salazar also monitored Cain’s food intake, she said. Sometimes Cain was so hungry, she said, that she stole energy bars from her teammates.

Cain went to his parents for support and alleges that Salazar ended up getting tired of the parental interference. In 2019, Cain says she was depressed, suffered from an eating disorder, generalized anxiety, and was cutting herself.

“Nike let Alberto shame women, objectify their bodies and ignore their health and well-being as part of its culture,” said Kristen West McCall, a Portland lawyer representing Cain. “It was a systemic and pervasive problem. And they did it for their own satisfaction and profit.”

In 2019, Cain told the New York Times in a video essay that she was emotionally and physically abused during the show. Nike at the time called the allegations deeply disturbing and said he would review them.

Runner Mary Cain sues former coach Alberto Salazar and Nike for $ 20 million over alleged abuse
In this file photo from June 1, 2013, Mary Cain, 17, right, reacts when coach Alberto Salazar tells her she just broke the US high school 800-meter record in the track and field competition Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon.

Don Ryan / AP

At the time, Nike said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch. “At Nike, we strive to always put the athlete at the center of everything we do, and these claims are totally incompatible with our values.”

Salazar helped found the Nike Oregon Project to make American long-distance runners competitive with the rest of the world.

The Nike Oregon Project was disbanded in 2019 after the US Anti-Doping Agency charged Salazar with three violations. The agency banned him from the sport for four years.

Salazar appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Last month, the court upheld the four-year sports ban imposed on Salazar and some of USADA’s findings. He ruled that Salazar had attempted an “intentional and orchestrated ploy to mislead” doping investigators when he tampered with evidence.

Cain’s 2019 New York Times editorial prompted another former Project Oregon runner to share her experience. Amy Yoder said Cain’s comments brought back “painful memories” from eight years ago.

“After finishing 6th in the 10,000m at the 2011 USATF Championships, I was kicked out of Project Oregon,” Yoder tweeted at the time. “I was told I was too big and had the biggest butt on the start line.”

Aimee Picchi contributed to this report.