Kara Goucher

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

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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.

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Kara Goucher, Olympic marathoner, turns to trail running

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Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher always figured taking up trail running would provide a wild adventure.

Just not this wild: Encountering a mountain lion at close range on a recent run. Like close-enough-to-touch range.

Spooked, the big cat turned toward Goucher before bounding away.

Also spooked, Goucher turned and high-tailed it out of there, too.

“Hopefully,” Goucher said, “that’s the last time I see one.”

Goucher is kicking up a little dust in her newest quest — trail running. Known for her racing prowess in distances from the 1500m to the marathon, she’s taking part in her first trail marathon this weekend in Leadville, Colorado, on a route that ascends as high as 13,185 feet (4,019 meters).

“The No. 1 goal is to finish and enjoy the experience,” Goucher said in a phone interview from her home in Boulder. “But I’m competitive by nature.”

Name a distance, any long distance, and Goucher has no doubt trained for it. She had top-10 finishes in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2008 Beijing Games. Four years later in London, she wound up 11th in the marathon. She also captured a bronze medal in the 10,000m at the 2007 World Championships, only to have it upgraded to silver a decade later after a Turkish runner was disqualified for doping.

“I just kept moving up and up” in distance, said the 40-year-old Goucher, who was a seven-time All-American in track and cross country at the University of Colorado. “I feel lucky that my career has gone on this long. I’ve been able to stay healthy enough to experience all these different things.”

In January, she ran the Houston Marathon but dropped out after the 19-mile mark because of a hamstring injury. Soon after, she decided to embark on an off-the-beaten path — trail running.

“Challenging myself in a few ways and kind of facing fears,” said Goucher, who’s been logging about 80 miles a week to prepare for Leadville. “I mean, trails are scary for me.”

That’s because of the climbing, descents, rocky terrain and, of course, coming face to face with a mountain lion.

This is how the situation earlier this spring unfolded: Goucher was running in a neighborhood leading to the trailhead when she came upon what she thought was a “weird-looking dog.”

“Then I was like, ‘That’s a mountain lion!’” she said. “It happened so fast.”

She knew what to do in such a situation — stand tall, raise her arms, make eye contact — and promptly forgot.

“It all went out the window,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is turn your back.”

She sprinted to a nearby construction site while the mountain lion sprang in the other direction (“its footsteps were so powerful,” she recalled). Once her heart rate slowed, she called her husband, Adam Goucher, who picked her up and drove her to another trail.

In February, a Colorado runner near Fort Collins survived a mountain lion attack by wrestling the young animal to the ground and jamming his foot onto its neck to suffocate it to death.

“I was pretty shaken up for a couple of days but then I just got back on the horse,” Goucher said. “I haven’t really run on the trails by myself since then, but I’ve been back out plenty.”

These days, running is far from the only thing that fuels her. She and other athletes such as Alysia Montano and Allyson Felix are speaking out about the need for sponsors to support female competitors before, during and after pregnancy — that contracts shouldn’t penalize someone for starting a family.

“I just can’t thank Alysia and Allyson enough for lending their voices because you get a lot of criticism,” said Goucher, who ran the 2011 Boston Marathon 6 ½ months after her son, Colt, was born. “We’re on the right side of history on it.”

Goucher is also an advocate for clean sports (attending an anti-doping conference in London), organizes a high school girls camp and volunteers at her son’s school.

“It’s just living a little bit of a more full life,” Goucher said.

Make no mistake: She’s not closing the door on trying to make a future Olympic or world championship team.

“I don’t know if that voice will ever go away,” Goucher said. “My son was asking me the other day, ‘When are you going to retire from racing?’ I’m like, ‘Have you met me? Never!’”

VIDEO: Gabe Grunewald wins 2014 U.S. title at 3000m after cancer diagnosis

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U.S. Olympians receive medal upgrades after doping punishments

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U.S. Olympians Kara Goucher and Francena McCorory are among more than a dozen athletes set to receive retroactive medal upgrades in ceremonies at the world track and field championships next month.

The results changes were made due to positive retests of past doping samples from athletes since stripped of their medals.

Goucher, a 2008 and 2012 Olympic distance runner, will be promoted from bronze to silver from the 2007 World Championships 10,000m in an Aug. 5 ceremony at London’s Olympic Stadium.

Original silver medalist Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol in a retest of a sample she gave at the 2007 World Championships, it was announced in March.

Abeylegesse also won Olympic silver medals in the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2008 Beijing Games.

American Shalane Flanagan stands to get the silver medal in the Olympic 10,000m, but that has not been announced yet. The medal upgrade ceremonies at worlds include past world championships but no past Olympic events.

U.S. 400m runner Francena McCorory will receive two medals on Aug. 4 — bronze in the 2011 World Championships 400m and gold as part of the 2013 U.S. 4x400m relay team with Jessica BeardNatasha Hastings and Ashley SpencerJoanna Atkins also ran in the preliminary heats of the relay.

Original 2011 World 400m bronze medalist Anastasia Kapachinskaya was retroactively disqualified in June after a doping sample from the 2011 Worlds was retested and found to contain banned steroids. McCorory originally finished fourth in that final.

Russia was stripped of its 2013 World 4x400m title in February after relay member Antonina Krivoshapka was retroactively banned for a doping offense. Russia beat the U.S. by .22 in that world final.

The biggest cheer at London Olympic Stadium for one of 11 medal upgrade ceremonies will come on Aug. 6, when Brit Jessica Ennis-Hill receives her 2011 World heptathlon gold after Russian Tatyana Chernova was stripped for doping.

MORE: Russia enters 19 athletes into world track and field champs

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