Getty Images

Mary Cain raises women’s health issues in harrowing account of her time with Alberto Salazar

1 Comment

In 2013, Mary Cain was the talk of the track and field world. The teenager with flowing hair and an irrepressible smile shattered high school records and became the youngest woman to qualify for a world championship 1,500m final. Surely Olympic glory and global athletics stardom would be next.

Instead, Cain’s performances dropped off. She had a solid year in 2014, winning the 3,000m world junior title, the Millrose Games mile and the U.S. 1,500m indoor title, and she took second in the U.S. 1,500m final. But in 2015, she was less competitive. Her struggles continued in 2016, and she finished 11th in her first attempt to make an Olympic team.

She enrolled in Fordham, near her Bronxville, N.Y., home, and took pre-med classes while dealing with a variety of injuries. In the last three years, her IAAF bio lists no results.

“Whatever happened to Mary Cain?” became a popular question among those who follow track and field, even casually.

On Thursday, in a devastating New York Times video, she answered. Her physical and mental health were destroyed — she claims, at the hands of Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar, who contacted the Cain family while she was in high school to say he wanted to coach the prodigy.

“I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever,” Cain said. “Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike.”

Cain says she was told to lose weight — “thinner, and thinner, and thinner” — in order to get better, even to the point of taking birth control pills and diuretics. That staff, she points out, was all male. 

The problem was well-hidden. A March 2015 magazine piece, also in The New York Times, suggested Salazar was treating Cain carefully. The goal was to avoid ailments such as the “female athlete triad,” also called RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport) syndrome, in which an eating disorder and the lack of a menstrual period are related to a weaker bone structure.

“Not eating appropriately for the amount of energy an athlete expends is really the root of this syndrome,” University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon Andrea Spiker said in an RED-S fact sheet that says missing just three cycles is a warning sign.

Cain said she missed her period for three years. And broke five different bones.

The mental toll was worse. She had suicidal thoughts and began cutting herself. She said she brought the latter to Salazar’s attention in May 2015, a couple of months after the magazine piece painted a rosy picture but a few hours after Salazar yelled at her in front of many athletes and meet officials gathered in a tent during a thunderstorm. Her parents soon brought her home to New York.

“I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics any more,” Cain said. “I was just trying to survive.”

But she hid the depths of her problems. As recently as last year, Cain talked with Runner’s World about building back up to run in the outdoor season and expressed no regrets about her career choices.

The author of the 2015 magazine piece, Elizabeth Weil, says today she wishes she had spotted some red flags.

“I’ve thought a lot about the 2015 Mary Cain story I wrote over the years,” Weil said on Twitter. “[Because] in hindsight I got it so wrong.”

Former Nike runner Shalane Flanagan, who last month described her training group as distinctly separate from Salazar’s, also wondered aloud if she should have noticed the problems, reaching out to Cain on Twitter.

“I had no idea it was this bad,” Flanagan wrote. “I’m so sorry @runmarycain that I never reached out to you when I saw you struggling. I made excuses to myself as to why I should mind my own business. We let you down. I will never turn my head again.”

Coincidentally, soon after the 2015 magazine piece ran, Salazar’s program fell under heavy scrutiny. In June, the BBC and ProPublica reported that the Nike Oregon Project was under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. That investigation finally ended with a four-year ban for Salazar.

One of the former Oregon Project athletes who spoke out in the BBC/ProPublica piece, Kara Goucher, told NBC OlympicTalk she had hoped Cain would be treated better because of her age but that Cain simply wound up isolated.

“She was all alone,” Goucher said. “She had no one to support her.”

Officially, the Nike Oregon Project has been shut down, but several of the coaches and athletes are still working together. The athletes Salazar trained are a who’s who of distance running, including Galen Rupp, Jordan Hasay and Mo Farah. None of the athletes have been charged with doping, and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart said this week he sees little reason for the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate any further.

Now Cain wants to change the system.

“Young girls’ bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system,” Cain said.

Goucher agrees: “I think this is a broader problem of the way we treat women athletes as objects instead of humans.”

Cain gave a road map for reform: Change the culture at Nike, including a closer look at the coaches who worked with Salazar and continue to work with Nike athletes, and put more women in power.

And she says her running career isn’t over.

“Part of the reason I’m doing this now is I want to end this chapter, and I want to start a new one,” Cain said.

Left ambiguous is whether that statement applies only to herself or to her sport and sports in general.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

1960 Winter Olympic host considers name change over derogatory term

Squaw Valley
AP
Leave a comment

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — California’s popular Squaw Valley Ski Resort is considering changing its name to remove the word “squaw” — a derogatory term for Native American women — amid a national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.

The word “squaw,” derived from the Algonquin language, may have once simply meant “woman,” but over generations, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage indigenous women, said Vanessa Esquivido, a professor of American Indian Studies at California State University, Chico.

“That word is an epithet and a slur. It’s been a slur for a very long time,” she said.

When settlers arrived in the 1850s in the area where the Sierra Nevada mountain resort is now located, they first saw only Native American women working in a meadow. The land near Lake Tahoe was believed to have been given the name Squaw Valley by those early settlers.

But now the term is considered derogatory and even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as an offensive term for a Native American woman.

The possible renaming of Squaw Valley Ski Resort is one of many efforts across the nation to address colonialism and indigenous oppression, including the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus, a symbol to many of European colonization and the death of native people.

On Monday, the National Football League’s Washington Redskins announced the team is dropping the “Redskins” name and Indian head logo.

Regional California tribes have asked for the name of Squaw Valley Ski Resort — which received international name recognition when it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics — to be changed numerous times over the years, with little success.

But the idea is gaining momentum.

Squaw Valley President & CEO Ron Cohen said the resort is currently taking inventory of all the places where the name appears on and off the property, how much it would cost to change and what to prioritize if the change moves ahead.

Removing “squaw” from the resort name would be a lengthy and expensive process, Cohen said, as the name appears on hundreds of signs and is imprinted on everything from uniforms to vehicles.

Cohen, who took over as head of the resort two years ago, said the operators are also meeting with shareholders, including business and homeowners within the resort, as well as the local Washoe tribal leadership to get their input.

Cohen said he could not give a timeline on when a decision could be made.

Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey said the name Squaw Valley is a constant reminder of efforts to disparage native people.

He’s in favor of the name change and suggested “Olympic Valley” as a replacement.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt says one man can bring him out of retirement

‘In Deep with Ryan Lochte’ highlights Peacock launch sports offerings

Leave a comment

“In Deep with Ryan Lochte,” a documentary on the swimmer’s Rio Olympic scandal and return from suspensions, premieres on Peacock on Wednesday, when NBC Universal’s new streaming service launches.

From NBC Universal PR: “[Lochte] was at the center of a scandal that has since overshadowed a decorated swimming career that includes 12 Olympic medals. Now a 35-year-old husband and father of two young children, Lochte is hoping for one more chance to make Team USA and prove he’s not the same man he was four years ago.”

Lochte’s life since his Rio gas-station incident: a 10-month suspension, engagement and marriage to Kayla Reid, the birth of son Caiden and daughter Liv, the dedication of his swims at the 2020 Olympics to Nicholas Dworet, a swimmer killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, a 14-month ban after he posted a social media image of an illegal IV transfusion of a legal substance, a six-week alcohol addiction rehab stint and a 2019 U.S. title in the 200m individual medley (the meet lacked top Olympic hopefuls).

In the film, Lochte revisits what happened in Rio, when he embellished the actual story: that he, and three other U.S. swimmers, were confronted by a security guard after Lochte ripped down a sign outside of a bathroom after late-night drinking. The swimmers’ competition was over.

“I messed up before that night even started,” Lochte said in the film. “I shouldn’t have even thought about going out and getting drunk. I should have represented my country the way we were taught. It just kind of spiraled down from there.

“It was all my fault, and I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

The security guard, who pointed a gun at Lochte but not against his forehead, and a Rio police chief were interviewed on camera for the film.

Lochte said he plans to tell his children everything that happened.

“I don’t want to lie to them ever,” he said.

After the Olympics, Lochte said he saw a headline that said he was “the worst person in the world.” Most of all, he regretted that younger swimmers who previously looked up to him said he was no longer their role model.

“This is the most pressure I’ve had in my entire life,” Lochte said. “Yes, I made a mistake in Rio, and I need to earn the respect from my fellow swimmers, from Team USA, from everyone in the world. I gotta earn the respect. If I don’t make the Olympic team, they won’t see the change that I’ve made.”

Lochte, trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history, ranks fifth among Americans since the start of 2019 in the 200m IM. The top two at next summer’s Olympic Trials make the Tokyo Games.

“It’s pretty obvious now, I’m 100 percent family,” Lochte, who shed 30 added pounds from his time away from swimming, said at last August’s U.S. Championships. “That party-boy image that I used to have, I know it kind of messed me up, and it stuck with me, but that’s not me. I could care less about that lifestyle. My celebrations are picking up my son and my daughter and playing with them.”

Peacock’s launch also includes another sports offering, “Lost Speedways,” a series on the great racing cathedrals of the past created and hosted by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NBC Sports’ full Premier League match and studio coverage on Wednesday will be presented free on Peacock. That includes four matches, led by Liverpool at Arsenal at 3:15 p.m. ET. More information is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Cullen Jones’ mission amplifies as he retires from swimming