The Truth Behind Nike's Oregon Project

Mary Cain set many national records by becoming the fastest girl in the United States. However, after joining the Nike program, her well-being began to deteriorate.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Mary Cain was one of the best high school long-distance runners in United States history. They've called her the Michael Jordan of the women's runway and now Nike is responding after Bronxville-native Mary Cain came forward with abuse allegations.

The record holder claims she suffered years of abuse while on an elite training team sponsored by Nike. Cain told The New York Times: "I got caught up in a system designed by and for men that destroys the bodies of girls."

Running brought 24-year-old Mary Cain from Bronxville to the world stage. At 17 she was asked to join Nike's elite training program: The Oregon Project. But Cain stopped saying that her coach Alberto Salazar had embarrassed her bodily, which ultimately led to suicidal thoughts.

Cain told NBC New York that "my coaches always told me that I had to get thinner and thinner ... and thinner." The runner claimed that repeated nagging to lose weight brought her down to 114 pounds. She missed her period for three years and suffered five fractures. Her mental health deteriorated.

"I was cutting myself and I told them I was trying to throw up, this is really bad," added Cain.

Nike issued a statement saying “in part the allegations had not been raised by Mary or her parents before. Mary was looking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto's team in April."

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The athlete tweeted: “I wanted closure, I wanted an apology for never helping me when I was cutting myself, and in my own sad heart, which was never fully healed, I wanted Alberto to still accept me. I still loved him. Because when we let people break us emotionally, we crave their approval more than anything. "

Cane is one of three women who accuse Nike of mistreating female athletes. In an interview with WNBC, Kara Goucher, a former Olympian, warned that “there is a lot of manipulation. It was a very toxic culture."

Goucher also applied for Project Oregon. She said that "my experience with Nike was that they sell the image that they support female athletes, but in fact, they are not."

Nike said late last year that it was launching an immediate investigation to hear from Project Oregon athletes and that the allegations are "completely inconsistent" with its values.

In October 2019, Nike terminated the Project Oregon training program after Coach Salazar was kicked off track and field for four years for violating anti-doping rules. He is appealing the ban.

Alberto Salazar has denied allegations of illegal drug use and abuse of Mary Cain. Although Nike has a strategy to promote an image of acceptance and support for its athletes, the reality is far from it. As Cain said, more emphasis needs to be placed on caring for women in the organization.

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